Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Two hours after accepting her award for the most outstanding player in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, Carley Jewell gave empirical evidence of why women's hockey voters around the loop made the right choice.
The Winnipeg product scored the clutch game-winning goal that delivered a 2-1 triumph for the MacEwan Griffins in Game 1 of the best-of-five ACAC women's hockey final.
It didn't matter that it was off a broken play where the puck ended up on her stick for a clear shot at an open net from the left side of Red Deer College's Tracie Kikuchi.
Jewell's tally with 4:55 left will go down as a pure gem in the ranks of MacEwan's playoff lore.
"It just popped out and I saw it there," she said of the play, which started when Raven Beazer drove down the right side and sent a behind-the-back pass in front to Shyla Jans, whose shot deflected off a defender right to Jewell. "Kuch, I don't think she knew where it was. It was really lucky that it popped out to me there."
Sometimes the bounces just go your way, but they are usually earned, awarded by the hockey gods to those with the most elbow grease. The Griffins were due for a break in a game they had the lion's share of chances in.
That was no more evident than in the second period – when the Griffins outshot the Queens 14-4 but failed to get an insurance marker past Kikuchi, who was named the ACAC's First Team All-Conference goaltender in a pre-game ceremony.
"We were so close on a few of those," said MacEwan head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "The second period was our most dominant, for sure. We should have capitalized on a few of those that we couldn't put away.
"It's another good lesson in a five-game series where that can come back to haunt you."
It nearly did.
The Griffins sat on a 1-0 lead for more than half the game after Jessi Rampton scored late into their first powerplay of the contest at 12:38 of the first period. Rampton wheeled out of the right corner and ripped a high wrister past Kikuchi high blocker side.
In the second period, Karlie Bell had a glorious chance to give MacEwan a 2-0 lead, but her backhander off a rebound tipped off the top of Kikuchi's pad and hit the side of the net instead. Not long after, Jans was alone in front but couldn't beat the Queens goaltender. Nikki Reimer pinged a crossbar before the frame was out.
Late in the second, Griffins goalie Sandy Heim flashed a pad to stop Emily Lougheed's one-timer and keep her team in front.
MacEwan found the twine early in the third period after jamming away at the crease, but it came after the whistle had gone and was waved off.
Then the Queens came calling. This is the same team that recovered from a 3-0 deficit against NAIT last Sunday to win 4-3 and advance to the ACAC final, so it was inevitable the push would come. It led to the tying goal at 11:19 of the third when Keinyn Nordell sent a pass from behind the net to Kirsten Baumgardt, who one-timed it past Heim.
"We've talked about the mental side of the game for us," said McAlpine. "That third was a big focus for us and I thought we let (our focus) dip. I thought we started to panic a little bit too early.
"The girls were able to compose themselves after the goal pretty well. Again, Jewell capitalized on an opportunity that was phenomenal for us and was able to put us ahead."
Not before Heim had her finest moment, though. With 6:10 left, RDC forward Kaitlan Linnell sent an offering that was destined to be a bar-down beauty before the Wilderswil, Switzerland native got her shoulder on it, deflecting the puck on top of the net.
"There was one game-changing save where she came across there and kept us alive at that point," said McAlpine. "You know, I knew she would thrive in playoffs. We talked about that. I'm sure she's going to do that from here on in."
So, the Griffins will take a 1-0 series lead into Game 2 on Saturday in Red Deer (7 p.m., Enmax Centrium). Game 3-5 – the last two if necessary – are set for next weekend.
"I think it was really important for us to come out and go up first," said Jewell. "It is a long series and we don't want to get too emotionally high and come into the next game thinking the series is over because there's a lot of hockey left and we've got to finish every game out."
In a pre-game ceremony, McAlpine was named coach of the year for a second-straight season and third time since taking the helm of the Griffins in 2012.
"It's always really nice to get recognized by your peers," she said. "The girls play such a significant role in that. We were fortunate enough to come first place. Sometimes coach of the year falls to whoever comes first place because everyone in our league does a phenomenal job."
Jewell won the most outstanding player award after leading all ACAC rearguards in scoring.
"It's a huge, huge honour," she said. "It's a really nice mention. It's really exciting."
ICE CHIPS … Also honoured before the game was NAIT's Megan Leblanc, who was named the ACAC's top rookie … The first team All-Conference was unveiled: G Tracie Kikuchi (RDC), D Carlin Boey (NAIT), D Jewell (MacEwan), F Kendra Hanson (NAIT), F Verca Kuzelova (NAIT) and F Jade Petrie (RDC) … The second team: G Natalie Bender (MacEwan), D Cassidy Anderson (RDC), D Nikki Reimer (MacEwan), F Julia Murrell (RDC), F Chantal Ricker (MacEwan) and F Brittney Savard (NAIT).