Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – With the collective offensive effort of the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team good for goals on just 6.5 per cent of their shots this season, having a player with Shyla Jans' talent on the roster is like finding an oasis in the desert.
The 5-foot-3 Edmontonian, who leads the team with three goals and an assist through the first four games, is coming off scoring game-tying and game-winning goals, respectively, in a pair of wins over Olds College last weekend.
"I think Shyla – she's had league recognition, but I would argue she's still one of the most underrated players in our league," said MacEwan head coach Lindsay McAlpine of the two-time ACAC second team all-star.
"I think she is somebody that regardless of who she's playing with is able to make those players around her better. She's got great hockey IQ, great vision for the game. When she's given a point-blank scoring opportunity, it's pretty rare that she misses."
On Oct. 11, Jans was the only Griffins player to beat Olds goalie Victoria Eilers among 41 shots shoveled at her in regulation and two overtimes. She snuck a backhand through the goalie's legs to get the game into a shootout that MacEwan won.
"I just threw a backhand and just hoped it would sneak through," said the fourth-year left winger, who also scored two nights later in the rematch in Edmonton, tucking the winner under the bar on goalie Lexi Bruce.
"It just ended up on my stick and I saw the net and that was about it."
Jans will lead the Griffins (4-0-0-0) into action this weekend when they host NAIT (3-1-0-0) on Friday (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena) and visit them Saturday (6 p.m., NAIT Arena).
If you were to watch the Griffins practice, Jans' success in games would come as no surprise. She puts the work in to get better.
"In her four years here, she's been the first on the ice working on individual skills," said McAlpine. "She's almost always the last player off the ice.
"We laugh because Shyla brings the pucks out and puts them away, but it's because she's a player that puts in that extra time and you can see it in her game."
Practice is where Jans believes it all happens. It's how the Griffins will improve their shooting percentage in games, too.
"I think just focusing on the little things in practice (is huge)," she said. "Our whole team has really been driving home getting on loose rebounds and getting on making passes. I think practice has been the real key."
McAlpine says they've been working on creating traffic in front for years, but there's no doubting the urgency of attacking a problem that hasn't cost them wins yet, but certainly has the potential to if not corrected.
"They're definitely hearing the message and I think we're trying," she said. "The big focus in practice is putting pucks on net. I think we're really focusing on that traffic piece and getting touches on shots.
"I think Shyla is also arguably one of the best in the league in getting a touch on point shots. She's got very good hand-eye coordination, which I think helps her around that net front."
NAIT will present a major challenge as always; even if they have turned over a good portion of their roster, they're still led by familiar all-star faces Carlin Boey, who leads the ACAC in scoring, Verca Kuzelova and Brittney Savard.
"NAIT's a very interesting team this year because they've got a new coaching staff and 13 new players who've joined the roster after lots of turnover," said McAlpine of new bench boss Stef Thomson's group. "But the players who've stayed are their top guns and Boey is leading the league in points.
"Of the top scorers, they've got at least three of them in the top five. That's a typical NAIT roster where we've got to be hyper-aware of those players when they're on the ice because given a chance they'll capitalize.
"With all their new players, the Friday will be a little bit of a learning curve for us to see what they're like."