Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Compounding crossbars, deflected passes, and rotten puck luck turned a blowout into a barn-burner in the MacEwan women's hockey home opener against the SAIT Trojans on Friday night.
The two-time defending champion Griffins unveiled their latest banner before puck drop and then proceeded to dominate for most of the night, outshooting the Trojans 44-19 before leaning on a huge defensive play to preserve a 1-0 victory.
With the Griffins killing a penalty for the final 28.7 seconds, Kyrelle Skoye killed the game in the corner.
"We talk about hounding the puck and making smart decisions and Kyrelle did exactly as we asked," said MacEwan head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "She held it there for upwards of 20 seconds. It gives our team a momentum boost going into tomorrow."
Based on the run of play, the score should have been somewhere in the 5-0 range in favour of MacEwan and there would have been no need for everyone to be on the edge of their seat in the final seconds, but finish eluded the Griffins, their powerplay was invisible (0-for-8) and Trojans goaltender Elisha Oswald stood on her head.
"We actually talked about that. Their goaltending can be inconsistent at SAIT, but when it's on, it's on," said McAlpine. "She made a couple of critical saves for them, gave them a little momentum boost and they were right back in the game."
Oswald held the fort for the Trojans, who were outshot 16-0 in the first period. It was the goal that beat her at 7:19, though, that stood up as the game-winner. Jordyn Reimer potted the rebound off Carley Jewell's point blast to give the Griffins the only tally they would need.
"Jewell just shot from the top and I was screening the goalie," said Reimer. "I looked at my feet and there it was. Backhanded it right between my feet and in it goes."
The Griffins attempted to score many more like that one throughout the game, consistently getting shots on Oswald, but rebounds either hit iron, missed the net or were blocked and stopped.
"We were for sure battling the puck a little bit," said Reimer. "A little bit nervous. First game's always a little bit shaky, but next time we'll get a few more."
Oswald's best save of the game came late in the middle frame when she robbed Ricker with her left pad on a point-blank rebound chance.
Raven Beazer then sifted a backhand off the crossbar in the final minute of the second.
"It will come," said McAlpine of the finishing touch. "Our first period was what we wanted. We started out dominant, kind of on a high after the banner-raising and the energy was good.
"We've talked about working on our consistency and I think we take those mental dips in the game where we need to stay in that same zone."
SAIT didn't register a shot on goal until the game was 24 minutes and 30 seconds old, but they began to gain momentum after putting a dangerous rebound on goalie Sandy Heim at 15:30 of the second.
Heim wasn't overly busy, but she made a five-alarm save off a one-timer from SAIT's Lexie Shumate at the 13:30 mark of the third period. It was the best of 19 stops she made for the ninth regular season shutout of her ACAC career.
"She did make one huge save that was arguably the game," said McAlpine. "She didn't get challenged a ton and those are hard games for Sandy to stay in. I thought she did a good job mentally."
Sandy Heim made 19 saves for the ninth regular season shutout of her ACAC career (Matthew Jacula photo).
MacEwan will certainly be working on cleaning up their powerplay after failing on eight tries, including whiffing on nearly a minute's worth of two-man advantages.
"I think we were actually just forcing things that weren't there," said McAlpine. "We got too fancy. We free-wheeled a little bit too much. I like them to be creative, but they kind of branched a little bit too far from (our system) and were forcing plays that SAIT was taking away."
The teams will meet in Calgary on Saturday in a rematch (7 p.m., SAIT Arena).
Former captain Sydney Thomlison is saluted by teammates as she unveils their 2017-18 ACAC Championship banner prior to puck drop on Friday (Matthew Jacula photo).