Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – For the third time in four years, MacEwan's bid to make U SPORTS national championship fell a goal short after a 1-0 loss (4-3 on penalty kicks) to Calgary in Friday's Canada West semifinal at Clarke Stadium.
The Griffins saw two of their final three penalty kicks either sail over the crossbar or hit it as the Dinos rallied from an early deficit in the shootout to punch their ticket to the conference gold medal game and U SPORTS national championship.
It's the third time in five years the Dinos will play for the national title.
"We survived," said Dinos head coach Troye Flannery. "I can't say enough good things about the team that we just played. We knew it would be tough.
"It doesn't feel like a win, it certainly doesn't feel like a loss. It's more of a relief that we get to go to another national championship. That's three in five years and I'm damn proud of that."
It was a devastating result for the homestanding Griffins – hosting a Canada West Final Four for the first time since joining the conference in 2014 – considering they appeared all but on their way after goalkeeper Emily Burns stopped Kelsey Ellis on the Dinos' first attempt.
But as Calgary's Sofia Mondaca, Montana Leonard, Malya Lee and Amy Mikuska scored, and MacEwan's Suekiana Choucair and Raeghan McCarthy also found the twine, third Griffins shooter Jamie Erickson went high to set up a dramatic final shot. Kristyn Smart had to score for the shootout to continue and instead hit the crossbar.
"Going up one in the shootout is always a nice thing, especially the first shooter, but that's the game sometimes," said MacEwan head coach Dean Cordeiro. "It's a lottery when it gets to PKs and it's sad it had to end that way. But that's sport. We'll pick ourselves up and we'll be ready to go tomorrow. It's just tough right now."
Emily Burns is consoled after the Griffins lost a heartbreaker in the shootout (Chris Piggott photo).
Both teams had chances to end the game in regulation.
MacEwan's best came in the 77th minute when a laser from Salma Kamel, who broke free down the right side, went bar down but stayed out.
Calgary's best came in the 82nd when Kelsie MacDonald – who gave the Griffins fits on the left wing all afternoon – sent in a low cross right onto Leonard's boot 10 feet out, but Calgary's leading scorer in the regular season chipped a seemingly sure goal over the bar.
"I thought we played very, very well at times," said Flannery. "We didn't want to be frantic, we didn't want to fight them. We wanted to try to play football, which we did for big chunks of the game. Burnsie robbed us a couple of times. I think we hit the bar, MacEwan hit the bar as well.
"It's two very good teams and you almost feel a little bit guilty going out of here advancing, but we're an old squad, we've got a bunch of fourth years on the field and we managed the emotions for the most part."
MacEwan was under siege for much of the first half, but found their footing in the second and looked like the more dangerous team in overtime. They also had a 42nd-minute goal that was waved off because Erickson was offside before she tapped home a rebound.
"Close call. It's a game of inches, it really is," said Cordeiro. "I think we saw that today."
Jamie Erickson taps a rebound past Calgary goalkeeper Lauren Houghton in the 42nd minute, but was called offside on the play (Chris Piggott photo).
Burns made 12 saves for MacEwan, while Lauren Houghton stopped seven for the Dinos.
The Griffins will meet the Trinity Western Spartans in Saturday's bronze match (12 p.m.), while Calgary meets UBC in the championship match (3 p.m., Clarke Stadium, both games Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
It will be tough for the Griffins to regroup after a true heartbreaker that follows one-goal losses to Saskatchewan in 2016 and Victoria in 2017 in previous chances to qualify for the U SPORTS championship. They will have a chance to win a conference medal, something the program has yet to accomplish.
"It will be the last game of the season and we'll put our best foot forward," said Cordeiro. "We've got to understand the magnitude of what just happened here. It's not the game we wanted to be playing in, but we'll come out and do what we need to do."