Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
RED DEER – The MacEwan Griffins dug deep into a locker-room of leadership, character, grit and harmony and mined a second-straight Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference women's hockey championship on Friday night.
Don't wait up for the returning bus of joyous Griffins, who, when reached via phone, were still just packing up the celebration onto the iron lung an hour after the game.
The feeling is indescribable.
"It's hard to even put into words," said captain Sydney Thomlison after the Griffins beat the Red Deer Queens 3-1 in Game 4 to clinch the best-of-five ACAC Championship series 3-1. "It's an amazing experience and I'm so proud of this team."
MacEwan also won the ACAC Championship banner last season on the road in Game 4, defeating the SAIT Trojans in overtime, so they're used to the party atmosphere of a late-night bus ride with the trophy riding shotgun.
But no matter how a championship is won, it can be a surreal experience.
"You know what, I'm a little bit in shock right now," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "It was such a different win from last year because we did it in regulation.
"At the end, it came down to game management and holding that lead. Last year was an overtime win, so it was kind of a different set of emotions. But our girls played the complete 60-minute game that we needed them to. We came out with great energy and it was nice to be able to get it done in four."
On Friday, MacEwan rookie Amanda Murray scored her third goal of the playoffs to open the scoring at 16:26 of the first period.
RDC tied it up on a power-play tally of their own by Landry Derdall 1:40 into the second period before MacEwan's Chantal Ricker went to work on a beautiful individual effort. The second-year forward from Calgary slipped a defender and went in alone on Tracie Kikuchi, undressing her with a great deke and tucking what would prove to be the game-winner between her legs.
Reimer, a member of the ACAC Second Team All-Conference defence, wound up with a goal and an assist in the contest and finished with three goals and five points in six playoff games, earning the ACAC playoff MVP honour.
"It was good to see her get recognized," said McAlpine. "She had intensity ever since the puck dropped in Olds and carried it into the finals. Nikki's always an intense player. She's a competitor and a leader. She just found another level in her game.
"She just had it in her practices and games, but I think she was also able to capitalize in critical situations for us. She's not one of our go-to offensive defencemen, she's a solid defensive defenceman for us, but was able to be a two-way player for us down the final stretch and was great."
Thomlison finished off her final game as a Griffin in style, going out as a two-time champion. She joins teammates Jessica Dyck and Shanya Shwetz as graduating seniors from the program. The legacy that they're leaving is one that will define this core group of two-time league champs.
"I think those girls left a legacy that we hope can continue on – players like Sydney Thomlison and Shanya Shwetz, who have been with us for five years – phenomenal leaders with their details, their grit, their team-first mentality," said McAlpine. "I hope it builds into those first and second-year players where all they know now is winning championships."
Thomlison was asked how this group would be remembered a decade or longer from now.
"I think it honestly comes down to how close this team is," she said. "We're all so tight-knit, everyone believes in each other, everyone's there to support each other and we're such close friends.
"When it comes down to it, we're there for each other and we're going to support each other through everything. I had no doubt coming into this weekend that we could pull it off."