Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Picture this: Fly into Switzerland with a dozen or so of your closest friends on zero sleep, gain a boost from being among a 35,000-strong crowd of soccer fans chanting and singing, and then watch the local professional footie squad win the league championship for the first time in 32 years.
That's a memory several members of the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team won't soon forget.
"That was all of our very first professional soccer game and it was absolutely amazing," said forward Morgan Casson, who was one of 12 Griffins players who flew over to Bern, Switzerland in late April to meet up with teammate Dominique Scheurer in her hometown for some European sight-seeing and the soccer game.
"The energy was nuts. We were all so jet-lagged. We hadn't slept in a couple days, but we just fed off the energy and didn't feel tired at all. It was so cool."
Scheurer picked them up at the airport and arranged the tickets to the game – a 2-1 victory for Young Boys Bern over FC Lucerne in the championship match of the Swiss League.
"The Griffins bring championships with them, I guess," she said with a laugh.
Scheurer and Casson will lead the Griffins into a weekend series against Red Deer College (Friday in Red Deer, 7 p.m. and Saturday at the Downtown Community Arena, 6 p.m.).
There's no doubt that group of players who went over to Europe for a three-week trip that included travels to Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Rome and back to Switzerland, will be bonded for life.
"It was amazing," said Casson. "We always felt so safe because we had such a big group of us. They always say when you travel with people, you really get to know them, but for us we already knew each other so well, it was exactly what you'd expect."
Scheurer was dying to show her teammates what Europe was all about, so she started arranging the trip back in the summer of 2017. Not every player was able to go, but those who did made lifetime memories.
"It was very different because (with the Griffins), Lindsay (McAlpine) does all the planning," said Casson. "In this case, Domi stepped up and was a huge leader planning things, making sure we were catching our trains, translating for us, everything like that."
Scheurer was happy to play tour guide.
"It was amazing. They keep asking me about how it is (in Europe)," she said. "To be able to show them and especially that soccer game … it was incredible.
"They're not just going to be teammates because of that trip," she added. "They're going to be friends."
When it comes to team bonding, the Europe trip has only helped solidify a group that was pretty close to begin with. They won back-to-back ACAC Championships by being there for each other.
"I think that's one of the strengths of our team," said McAlpine. "We talk about it lots that everyone doesn't need to be best friends on a team, but I think we need to be teammates.
"I think this trip kind of exemplified that these girls love to hang out outside of the arena. I think they'd do anything for each other in any of those situations."
There's no doubt that attitude also transfers over to the ice, which makes the Griffins a tough team to play against. They'll look to improve on their league-leading 5-1-0-0 record against RDC (2-2-0-0) this weekend. It will be the first meeting of the season between two teams that battled in the best-of-five ACAC championship final series last March (won 3-1 by the Griffins).
"I think every time we play Red Deer, it brings back multiple playoff memories over many years, whether it was semifinals or finals," said McAlpine. "I think they're always a top contender in our league and we've grown into that role, as well.
"Any time the two teams face off against each other, it's always an exciting match. Of all the teams in our league, we're probably the most similar in terms of the way that we play, our structures and just our team strengths and weaknesses."