Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – For the difference in level between the ACAC and U SPORTS, the MacEwan Griffins have remarkably held their own against the University of Alberta Pandas in seemingly annual exhibition contests between the two Edmonton teams.
The last time the Pandas won a national championship was in 2017 – the same season that the Griffins took them to overtime in an exhibition game at Provost before losing 3-2.
However, there's no question about the level the Pandas bring, which makes this weekend's match against them another terrific opportunity for the Griffins to learn what it takes at the Canada West level. The two squads will kick off MacEwan's annual preseason Invitational tournament on Friday (4 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).
"I don't go into those games ever expecting a win from our players," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine, who won five national championships with the Pandas as a player, but has now led the Griffins to back-to-back ACAC Championships as a coach. "I hope to compete against the U of A. I think that's a good challenge for us.
"I think we have to look for little victories with them – small details in the game, like being able to focus on things in our D zone or keeping shots to a close range with them. They're obviously one of the strongest teams in U SPORTS and have been for many years.
"But it gives our girls a challenge that this is the league we eventually want to play in and we'll see if there's some areas we need to make some gains in."
The Griffins will also host the University of Calgary Dinos in the tournament (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., DCA).
"In my entire time with MacEwan, we've never had an opportunity to play the U of C, so we're really excited that Danielle Goyette is bringing her program up here to give us a game against them," said McAlpine. "They're a very strong team, but they're maybe a team I'd expect a little closer score against than the U of A."
Mount Royal University will also attend the soiree, but the Griffins won't play against them until next weekend when they travel to Calgary to meet the Cougars (Sept. 21-22).
As part of the MacEwan Invitational, MRU and Calgary will meet on Friday (7:30 p.m., DCA), while MRU and Alberta will play on Saturday (4 p.m., DCA). Alberta and Calgary will close out the tournament on Sunday (11:45 a.m., DCA).
"It's always really important any chance we get to play U SPORTS teams," said McAlpine. "Obviously, a goal for us is to eventually compete in this league, so even seeing where we are against these teams, it's a good challenge for us."