Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
CALGARY – Back-to-back big shot blocks by Jill MacWilliam and Kyrelle Skoye on a 6-on-3 penalty kill in the waning seconds helped preserve a 2-1 win for the MacEwan Griffins over the SAIT Trojans on Wednesday night.
Already locked into the No. 2 seed and a first-round Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference women's hockey playoff date with No. 3 Red Deer College, the Griffins had nothing on the line in the standings.
The host Trojans, however, had everything on the line, desperately needing a win to cut into a three-point deficit on Olds College for the final playoff spot.
That makes the victory even more impressive for the Griffins, who shut down a hungry team, sending them to the ropes in the ACAC playoff race, as they build for games that matter far more in the coming weeks.
"That's exactly what the game was. For us, it didn't matter in terms of placement in the standings and for SAIT it was huge," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine of the contest, which was a makeup date from Jan. 26 when their meeting was postponed due to MacEwan men's hockey player Nakehko Lamothe's tragic passing.
"We talked about leading up to the game and in the game, that we need to find different focuses these last three games for us. I think we were able to do the things that we asked them in terms of setting goals each period," she added. "We blocked some incredible shots. Little things like that that I think are getting us ready to go into that playoff mode."
With Jenna Thompson and Morgan Casson whistled for penalties eight seconds apart in the final minute, the Griffins needed a big effort in front of Sandy Heim to hold off the Trojans, who had a rare three-man advantage for the final 24 seconds.
"Jill MacWill in her trademark specialty blocked a pretty big shot from the point that caught her in the stomach," said McAlpine. "The second one was an outside block that hit Kyrelle Skoye. They're two of our bigger shot blockers."
Heim was pretty solid, too, in making 22 saves. Elisha Oswald stopped 28 of 30 for SAIT.
SAIT's Ashton Holmes equalized on a second-period breakaway.
But midway through the third period, the Griffins scored one of those charging-hard-to-the-net goals that win hockey games as the rebound off Kennedy Davidson's shot landed on Amanda Murray's stick and she made no mistake.
"She's been a player who has been consistently great for us these last four or five games," said McAlpine of Murray. "I was really happy she was able to get one because with her work ethic, she deserves it."
The victory improves MacEwan's record to 15-5-2-0, while the Trojans fall to 6-16-0-0.
SAIT now needs to beat first-place NAIT (18-2-2-0) twice this weekend while also becoming MacEwan's biggest fan, needing the Griffins to sweep the Olds College Broncos in a regular season finale weekend series.
MacEwan heads directly to Olds where they'll take on the Broncos (7-14-1-0) on Thursday night (7 p.m.) before hosting them on Saturday (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).
For the Griffins, playing three games in four nights is great preparation for the first round of the playoffs – a best-of-three series slated to be played on the March 1-3 weekend.
"We actually ironically did this last year, as well, because we had a game that was cancelled due to road conditions," said McAlpine. "We've got the SAIT-Olds-Olds weekend again.
"I don't think it's a bad thing to play these three games in a row leading into a potential three-game playoff series and then a longer one in five. It gives us some good practice, if you want to call it that, before we head into the playoffs."