Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Chantal Ricker was sitting on the bench late in overtime when she just knew.
She just knew in her mind that it would be Morgan Casson who played hero for the MacEwan Griffins on Thursday night at NAIT Arena.
Sure enough, the fourth-year defensive forward found a seam in the slot, the puck landed on her stick and she wired it under the bar for her second championship-clinching golden goal in the last three years.
Pure euphoria erupted from the Griffins' bench as they clinched their third-straight Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship with a 3-2 win over the NAIT Ooks to sweep the final series 3-0.
"I saw Morgan on the ice and I knew it," said Ricker. "The OT hero did it again. She won us that game at SAIT. I knew it."
Casson also scored an overtime winner at SAIT in Calgary that clinched the 2017 ACAC Championship for MacEwan.
"Once again, Morgan Casson ends up as the hero," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine after emerging from a raucous on-ice celebration. "It's her nature to do that. She's not a naturally-gifted goal scorer – she's a hard-working player with a big heart. And that's what wins us championships."
MacEwan, which also won the 2018 title by beating Red Deer College in the final, becomes just the third team in ACAC women's hockey history to call themselves three-peat champions. And that has a pretty nice ring to it.
"It's absolutely amazing to create a legacy for MacEwan," said Casson. "There's so much pride now with this program. We want to keep the streak going."
MacEwan nearly won the game in regulation, leading 2-1 in the final minute, but the plucky Ooks – who played their best game of the series with their backs against the wall – scored the equalizer with 32.7 seconds remaining to force overtime.
With an extra attacker, Meghan Leblanc fed Brittany Savard, who was alone in front and slipped the puck through goalie Sandy Heim's legs.
"I always joke with the girls that we always do it the hard way," said McAlpine. "That's exactly what I told them during the intermission going into overtime – we do it the hard way and let's find a hero here."
Through a relentless forecheck, MacEwan netted back-to-back powerplays in overtime and had the Ooks on their heels when Casson just found a way.
"We were on the powerplay and we had a lot of control over it around the outside," she said. "I'm not sure who exactly passed it to me, but I got a beautiful pass right in the slot and it was a wide-open shot.
"It was unreal. We wanted to win and to just relive winning was awesome."
Gloves, helmets and sticks littered the ice from end to end as the Griffins embarked on a wild celebration fit for a three-peat champ.
Griffins players surround Morgan Casson after she scored the golden goal on Thursday night (Len Joudrey photo).
"I'm probably in disbelief," said McAlpine. "I did think it was possible. The fashion that we did it in to beat NAIT three straight, that part is more shocking to me. They've got a phenomenal team over there and played excellent today when their life was on the line."
Heim, who made 34 saves to lead the Griffins to victory, is going out on top as she graduates from the program and heads home to Switzerland to continue her quest of making the Swiss national team for the next Olympics. Leaving with three-straight championships is a feeling unlike any other.
"It means a lot. It's a great feeling," she said. "It's an even better feeling that we won in overtime. We played really good as a team. I love all the girls. It's just been a wonderful time here at MacEwan. I'll never forget that. That's something I'll always think about when I'm back home."
Sandy Heim is one of five players graduating from the program who have earned the right to go out as three-peat champions (Len Joudrey photo).
Casson also opened the scoring for the Griffins 7:45 into the contest when she won a puck on the forecheck behind the net and wrapped it around back door on NAIT goalie Kaitlyn Slator.
Morgan Casson celebrates her first of two goals in the game with teammates (Len Joudrey photo).
After MacEwan weathered a huge Ooks storm in the late first/early second period, Jill MacWilliam sent a pass through a defender's legs and on to Dominique Scheurer's stick on the back door as she made no mistake on the one-timer to give the Griffins a 2-0 lead 3:06 into the middle frame.
NAIT pulled to within one before the second period was out when Verca Kuzelova sent a nifty pass to Leblanc in the slot and she ripped it over Heim's shoulder.
MacEwan put on a display of buzz saw-like defence and forechecking to disrupt every effort NAIT had to tie the contest until Savard's late winner sent it to overtime.
Ultimately, the Griffins – the ACAC's best defensive team during the regular season – got the job done.
"Our team's character is second to none," said McAlpine. "Starting with our leadership and those fifth-year girls, the trickle-down effect is massive. When I look at rookies playing like Alexandra Thomson, who stepped into the lineup just this weekend, Shyla Kirwer, Jayme Doyle … they all had exceptional championship runs here.
"Like I said, that trickle-down effect right from our fifth years down to our first years is what makes this team so successful."
Ricker was named ACAC playoff MVP after the contest. Although she didn't record a point in Game 3, she was the dominant force in Game 2 of the series with two goals and led the Griffins with four goals and five points in six playoff games.
"Honestly, it's amazing," she said of the award. "I'm speechless. I had a lot of the girls behind me. They supported me and helped me get to that moment. Our powerplay stepped it up."