Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
OLDS, Alta. – Morgan Casson has a knack for playing her best hockey late in the season.
Two years ago, she scored the golden goal in Game 4 at SAIT that sealed MacEwan's first of two Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championships in a row.
On Thursday night, she tallied twice in a dominant three-minute stretch in the third period to salt away a 4-1 win for the Griffins over the Olds College Broncos.
Casson was originally credited with a hat-trick which was later changed, but her performance still certainly warranted player of the game honours for the Griffins.
"Morgan thrives in a game where there's any sort of emotion on the line," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "Although this wasn't a game that really matters for us in the standings, we've built in something internally that matters a little bit more. The game got a little bit physical and it became like a playoff hockey game. Morgan absolutely rose to the occasion."
Chantal Ricker and Amanda Murray also scored for the Griffins, while Natalie Bender made 10 saves for the win as MacEwan improves to 16-5-2 in the ACAC standings. Olds College, which would have clinched a playoff spot with a victory, is now 7-15-1.
Ricker opened the scoring for the Griffins 11:15 into the first period when she picked a defender's pocket, went in alone and roofed it under the bar.
Just over a minute later, Murray then scored for the second time in as many nights, spinning around off the faceoff and blowing a wrister from the top of the slot past Olds goalie Lexi Bruce for the game-winner.
Olds drew within one on Jordan Pettman's second period tally.
But the third period belonged to Casson. Just 3:45 into the final frame, she busted in down the right wing, cut across the face of the net and tucked a backhander under the bar.
At 6:41, she came down the right wing on transition and steamed a shot past Bruce – eerily reminiscent of the one she scored on the SAIT Trojans in overtime to seal MacEwan's 2017 ACAC Championship.
"I think it was very similar to that game," said McAlpine. "We know Morgan's a big game player and we're expecting nothing different from her in this last game on Saturday and heading into this playoff series.
"I think she's peaking exactly where we need her to be. As a whole group, we're actually trending in that same direction, which is great to see heading into that first playoff series."
For a team that has had trouble scoring despite generating tons of chances all season, Thursday's four-goal explosion – all of the skill variety, too – proves they're heating up at the right time.
"We've been snake-bitten a bit in terms of our offensive production," noted McAlpine. "We know it's there and we know we have a group that can put pucks like that away.
"It's great to see this late in the season that things are coming to fruition, especially for players like Amanda Murray, who's now scored in back-to-back games. She's a girl who's really struggled to find the back of the net. So, hopefully she can take that confidence and run with it into the best of three next weekend."
The Griffins have one more regular season contest to get to first before they can officially begin planning for a best-of-three first-round playoff series against Red Deer College on the March 1-3 weekend (dates TBA). Olds will visit the Downtown Community Arena for the weekend rematch on Saturday (6 p.m.). Before the contest, the Griffins will recognize five graduating players – Dominique Scheurer, Sandy Heim, Nikki Reimer, Raven Beazer and Katresa Shwetz – on Senior Night.
"I think Senior Night's always special because our group is great at recognizing the impact players make over a five-year career in our program," said McAlpine. "To play for those girls is also very important, but we're in playoff mentality now. We've built a series out of the games we're playing now and it's ours to close out on Saturday."