Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Griffins
EDMONTON – Sandy Heim bounced back in a big way with a 39-save effort that sealed a 3-1 victory for the MacEwan Griffins over the Red Deer College Queens on Thursday night, bringing them within a win of their second-straight ACAC women's hockey championship.
The third-year goaltender from Wilderswil, SUI, was sensational in Game 3 of the ACAC final at the Downtown Community Arena, repelling the most furious attack the Queens have thrown at the Griffins this season.
That it came six days after she gave up four goals on 17 shots in a 4-0 Game 2 loss to RDC was all the more redemptive.
"That's exactly what I expected out of her," said MacEwan head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "She thrives off that playoff situation. She loves it. The more shots she gets, Sandy gets better. That was to Red Deer's detriment tonight. They put 40 shots on her and she was unstoppable at times.
"It was great to see her recognized as player of the game. I think she'll carry it into tomorrow."
Up 2-1 in the best-of-five series, MacEwan will capture the championship if they win Game 4 in Red Deer on Friday night (7:30 p.m., Enmax Centrium). Game 5, if necessary, is slated for Saturday (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).
For how stingy the two combatants normally are, the goals came uncharacteristically fast and furious late in the first period.
MacEwan's Jessica Dyck opened the scoring at 6:34 when her low point shot squeaked through the pads of RDC's Tracie Kikuchi and trickled over the line.
The Griffins kept rolling and made it 2-0 at 3:48 when rookie Tessa Mitchell ripped a shot from the slot into the top corner.
Tessa Mitchell celebrates her first period goal with Jill MacWilliam on Thursday night. The rookie's tally stood up as the game-winner (Len Joudrey photo).
For the Queens, who suffered through their sleepiest stretch of the game, it was as if the second goal triggered an alarm clock in their heads. Just 10 seconds later, captain Julia Murrell's shot bounced up over Heim's shoulder and dropped behind her only to hit the post and stay out.
But RDC wouldn't be denied. Controlling the zone, they got on the board just 20 seconds later when Cassidy Anderson's point blast, which may have deflected off traffic in front, blew past Heim.
The Griffins were guilty of running around in their own zone and not filling shooting lanes as the Queens had several dangerous late first-period chances, but the score remained 2-1 MacEwan after 20 minutes.
The second period featured a furious push from the Queens, but the Griffins held strong, with Heim refusing to yield a goal under tremendous pressure.
The home side's best defensive work, though, came in the third period when RDC was given a two-man advantage for 1:39. When fifth-year assistant captain Shanya Shwetz blocked a point shot off her face, the entire MacEwan bench erupted.
"That was 100 per cent off my face," she said. "It hit, I heard the metal and I looked around so lost because I had no idea what just happened. It took me like two seconds to realize where it had gone.
"I think killing that 5-on-3 gave us the momentum to know the win was in our hands, we just needed to keep going and keep pushing. That 5-on-3 was huge for us. It could have gone either way and I think that's what was the turning point in the game."
The penalty kill definitely swung the momentum in the Griffins' favour and they finished off the Queens when Nikki Reimer's knuckler from the point tipped off Kikuchi's glove and in at 10:30.
Kikuchi, who had only allowed two goals against in the series before Thursday, was uncharacteristically beaten twice on tallies that she'd like back. She made 23 saves in a losing effort.
RDC goaltender Tracie Kikuchi watches helplessly as Jessica Dyck's first period shot from the point trickles across the line (Len Joudrey photo).
"We talked about it before this game and we revisited it after. Goalies let things in," said McAlpine. "She's in our head a little bit and I think tonight was a good mental step for us. She's beatable and we've got to continue to put pucks on net."
Reimer almost had her second of the game when her banked clearing shot from her own zone went off the post of an empty net with just over two minutes left.
The Griffins were a focused bunch post-game as they know there's still work to do.
"The message was clear again," said McAlpine. "We're still one win away. We know it's a (best-of-five) series and Red Deer's got that intensity. We're very similarly-matched teams emotionally and physically in how we play and execute.
"Heading back into their rink, they are not going to let us win the championship easily. I think our preparation should start right now."
ICE CHIPS … Heim and Anderson were named as the players of the game … Griffins goalie Natalie Bender and defenceman Carley Jewell were among four players named as ACAC women's hockey academic All-Canadians on Thursday … The Griffins won the 2017 ACAC Championship – their first since 2008 – on road ice, wrapping up a 3-1 series win over SAIT in Calgary.