Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – There's no underlying the importance of the swing game in any playoff series.
The game that sends the winner to the brink of a championship needs no introduction.
When the MacEwan Griffins host the Red Deer College Queens in Game 3 of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference final (Thursday, 7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena), there will be no need to manufacture motivation.
The winner will be just 60 minutes away from the women's hockey banner.
"It's a very pivotal game in the series," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "I think this is where we need to use our home-ice advantage. We tend to be better at home than we do in Red Deer.
"Like I said from the start, it's going to be a long series. It's tough on the ice, it's tough physically, it's tough mentally. I think our girls need to come in ready to go."
Not much separates the Griffins and Queens, who finished just six points apart in the standings. And not much has so far in the series. MacEwan won the opener 2-1 at home before losing Game 2 by a 4-0 count on the road despite outshooting RDC 21-17 in the contest.
"Last game, we weren't overall happy with our performance," said Griffins defenceman Nikki Reimer. "We weren't checking well enough and we weren't defending our own net well enough.
"Heading into this weekend, we just need to get a lot more shots, a lot more traffic and start from our D zone out."
They knew going in that was the formula they'd need to employ if they hoped to get to RDC's First Team All-Conference goaltender Tracie Kikuchi, but somehow that plan got off the rails in Game 2 last Saturday.
"We've always known Red Deer has a really strong goalie," said Reimer, who was named to the ACAC's All-Conference Second Team. "We're not going to beat her often from a distance, so we have to really get girls driving to the net, crashing the net and being hungry for those garbage goals. Just get a lot of traffic in front of her."
And on the other end of the ice, giving up four goals on 17 shots like they did in Game 2 isn't a recipe for success. The Griffins know it. McAlpine will be looking to 2017 ACAC most outstanding player Sandy Heim for a bounce-back effort between the pipes.
"I'd like to see more from Sandy, for sure," she said. "I think she's definitely capable of more and I think she'll be ready to go on Thursday.
"I'd like to see our overall intensity increase – just that playoff hunger and mentality."
On the defensive end of the ice, that's the battle for loose pucks and the willingness to get into shooting lanes.
"I wouldn't say our execution was poor or our systematic play, discipline or structures, it was just little breakdowns where we let them have shots that we shouldn't have or had shots squeak through that usually wouldn't," said McAlpine. "Sport goes that way sometimes."
Both teams will be able to rely on players with championship pedigree, although there are more of them on MacEwan's side of the ice, given that they returned most of the 2017 banner-winning roster. RDC last won it in 2016, though, so they have a few veterans who know what climbing that mountain is like, too.
"It's one of those things where we're finding a line between our core of first year players that have only won a championship, so they don't necessarily know what it's like to lose and be on that flip side of things," said McAlpine.
"(The Queens) also have some experienced vets who have won a championship and they look heavily to those fourth and fifth-year players that they have."
It's a matter of who will dig deepest into the memory of why they won it before and take care of the details in doing it again.
"We're lucky that we have (almost) the same team from last year, so we all know the feeling and we're all chasing that feeling of winning again," said Reimer. "But we also know at the same time we can't go in with just solely that mindset because it's not going to come easy.
"Last game was kind of a wakeup call and a reminder of that. It's not coming easy and we're really going to have to push and battle for it."
Game 4 is set for Friday in Red Deer (7:30 p.m., Enmax Centrium). Game 5, if necessary, will be on Saturday in Edmonton (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).