Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
OLDS – Finishing off a series never comes as easily as you may map it out to be.
The MacEwan Griffins were so dominant over the Olds College Broncos in a 6-0 Game 1 win on Thursday that it seemed like a foregone conclusion they would advance to the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference final in two straight.
However, buoyed by their first-ever home playoff game, the Broncos pushed hard, giving MacEwan a real fight before eventually bowing out with a 4-2 loss on Saturday afternoon that eliminates them from the post-season.
"To give Olds credit, as we expected, they came at us really hard," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "I think it was a good challenge for us to be in a closer game like that heading into the next series."
MacEwan won its first ACAC women's hockey championship banner since 2008 last March and now they've earned a chance to battle for it again. They'll host the best-of-five ACAC final over the next two weekends against the winner of NAIT and Red Deer College (RDC took a 1-0 series lead into Game 2 on Saturday night).
"Obviously, any chance you have to play for a championship, I think the girls are really excited," said McAlpine. "We maybe didn't do it in the same fashion as we did on Thursday night, but we finished it and were able to get the sweep.
"I think it's nice to go home and have tomorrow off and reset for whoever it is we'll play in the final."
They will, of course, be watching intently as RDC and NAIT continue to do battle in their best-of-three series, which will extend to Sunday if the second-place Ooks can end a string of three-straight losses to the Queens on Saturday night.
"I'd ideally like to see them go to a best of three and fight it out with each other," said McAlpine. "But these are great teams and (the winner is) going to be really hard for us to play against."
On Saturday afternoon in Olds, the Broncos scored first, just three minutes into the contest, when Cassidy Holt beat a screened Natalie Bender with a point blast.
MacEwan equalized when rookie Amanda Murray beat Jaydlin Spooner five-hole from the slot just over five minutes later.
The Griffins not only had trouble scoring, they only put 25 shots on net, which is their lowest output against the Broncos in eight games against them in 2017-18.
"(The game) was a lot more physical, I would say," said McAlpine. "Different referees and the game was managed a bit differently. I think that played into Olds' style a little bit better than ours. They were able to get two lucky-ish goals. The game was made a little bit tighter. They shut down our more offensive forwards a little bit easier tonight."
But in the second period, the Griffins gained a bit of life offensively. Carley Jewell – who had a MacEwan-leading nine points during six regular season games against Olds – continued to be a thorn in the Broncos' side, tallying 2:49 into the second.
"That was kind of a big turning point for us where we were able to settle the game back down and take control," said McAlpine. "It was a really great passing play and we were kind of able to show our offensive flair more than we had seen in the rest of the game."
Mairyn Tucker got one back for Olds in the final minute of the second before the Griffins shut it down the rest of the way, keyed by strong defensive play from veterans like Shanya Shwetz, who iced the win with an empty-netter at 19:22 of the third period.
"Shanya Shwetz had the best game of her season," said McAlpine. "She doesn't get recognized because she's not a really big goal scorer for us, but the details in her game and her intensity and battle are things that we stress all year long.
"She blocked a couple of key shots on a 6-on-5 situation and I think she absolutely deserved more recognition tonight."
Bender made 15 saves for her first ACAC playoff victory.