Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – A minute to win it.
That was the small stretch of ice-tilted dominance the MacEwan Griffins needed to finally put away the pesky Red Deer College Queens on Sunday afternoon.
Raven Beazer and Dominique Scheurer scored 58 seconds apart early in the second period – all the offence the Griffins would need in a 3-1 win at the Downtown Community Arena that gave them a 2-1 series win over the Queens in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference semifinal.
MacEwan's quest for a third-straight ACAC Championship will continue next weekend against the NAIT Ooks, who swept Olds College in the other semi.
"We spoke about that championship mentality and the details," said MacEwan head coach Lindsay McAlpine, whose team needed plenty of fortitude to hold off the hard-charging Queens in the third period. "That was huge for us and something we need to really focus on. We'll take tomorrow off and moving forward it's a best-of-five against NAIT.
"We need to use the championship mentality as a positive for us, but not let a championship thought come too easily. NAIT's going to be a tough (series)."
So was the one they just finished. Although they again outshot the Queens significantly (37-24) and carried the lion's share of the play, goaltender Karlee Fetch kept her team in the contest until the end.
Posting a .947 save percentage in the series, the goaltender from Prince Albert, Sask. threatened to steal the show again on Sunday. She made 14 saves in the opening period, none better than a highway robbery of Chantal Ricker, who let a one-timer rip from the corner at the buzzer only to find all pad.
"It is tough to score goals," noted fifth-year graduating senior Scheurer. "She's an amazing goalie.
"I think it was just the mentality that we have coming in that we're not going to lose today. For me, it was 'I'm putting this jersey on again. It's not my last time.' That was my motivation. I went out there and it worked out well."
While the Queens nearly hit the scoresheet first in the opening few seconds of the second period when a dump-in took a strange carom off the boards and forced Griffins goaltender Sandy Heim to dive back into the crease and rob Kaely McMurtry of a sure goal with her paddle, the ice quickly tilted in MacEwan's favour.
For the first 15 minutes of the middle frame, the Griffins outshot the Queens 11-1 and hit the scoresheet twice.
Just 5:30 into the period, Amanda Murray missed the net on her first chance before retrieving the puck and wheeling around the defence into the slot where she wired one that went off Raven Beazer and over Fetch's glove to open the scoring.
"The best part of Murray's game is her puck intensity, her emotional investment," said McAlpine. "She's a player who rides that emotional line sometimes … but tonight it was a perfect example of her hounding the puck, turning it over, putting it back to where we needed to, shooting on net, digging for loose rebounds. She played a great game for us."
That got the momentum rolling for the Griffins and when Scheurer scored from the same spot, going high blocker side this time, just 58 seconds later, it forced the Queens to call a timeout.
"It was amazing. Every time you score in playoffs, it's different" said Scheurer. "The motivation went up so high. We just kept it going. After my goal, we fired on another level again. It was amazing."
While MacEwan couldn't get that third goal to put the Queens away, RDC nearly got back into it late in the second period when Kirsten Baumgardt hit the post on a powerplay.
Backs against the wall, the Queens came out with an inspired effort in the third period and eventually hit the scoresheet as Mairead Bast blasted a slapshot from the point – perhaps the hardest shot of the whole game – through traffic and past Heim with 11:42 left. It was the defenceman's third point of the series.
The Queens pressed for the equalizer on a late powerplay, but the Griffins did enough to hold them off, icing it with 1:05 remaining when Ricker hit an empty net. Heim finished with 23 saves.
Celebration erupted as the team breathed a sigh of relief. The Queens gave a good fight.
"Red Deer, credit to Kelly (Coulter) always. Great coach," said McAlpine. "He takes the best of his team and gets them pushing in that direction.
"As a group, they've got some phenomenal skill players. McMurtry, as a fifth-year now, she's one of the most dangerous players in our league and has been since the outset. Mairead Bast comes in – very, very dangerous player for them. Scores that goal and then was instrumental on both of their goals yesterday.
"Red Deer's an excellent team and always such a great competitor for us in the playoffs."
It's the third-straight season, the Griffins have beaten the Queen in the post-season, besting them in the semifinal in 2017 and the final in 2018.
So, now they'll go into a best-of-five series against another one of their great rivals – the Ooks – who finished five points above them in the standings. The exact schedule of the proceedings will be announced early this week but expect Games 1 and 2 on the March 8-9 weekend before the conclusion of the series on the March 15-17 weekend.
Although the Ooks made short work of the Broncos – outscoring them 7-1 in two victories – and the Griffins had a harder road, McAlpine sees that as a positive for her battle-tested group.
"I just spoke to the girls about you can take going to Game 3 as a disadvantage – maybe a harder series than NAIT – but I think it's an absolute advantage for us," she explained. "I think we need to have that going in mentally where we've played in that intense playoff situation, a must-win game. NAIT was able to get out of their series a little bit easier, so I think going into Game 1, we can hopefully set the pace of that game."