Jason Hills, For MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON — The MacEwan University Griffins have been forced to deal with a lot of adversity this season, but one message they've always conveyed to one another is to stay with it and believe.
The Griffins fell behind 3-0 to the Red Deer College Kings, but found a way to claw back from the jaws of defeat and completed a dramatic 4-3 double-overtime win to give them a 1-0 series lead in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference best-of-three semifinal series Thursday night at the Downtown Community Arena.
"Character is something I know is in our dressing room. It's moments like this where it gets to rear its head," said Griffins head coach Mike Ringrose.
"I'm proud of the effort. I'm proud of the compete. Once we got down, it was a big hole, but we found a way, and a lot of credit has to go to our guys."
Defenceman Tyler Morrison's point shot through traffic at the 7:40 mark of double overtime sent his team into a frenzy as he played the role of OT hero.
Fourth-year forward Brett Njaa scored twice, including the game-tying goal with 41 seconds left to send it to overtime.
Garan Magnes also scored for MacEwan, while forwards Chase Thudium, Dylan Thudium and defenceman Tanner Butler scored for RDC.
Griffins goaltender Marc-Olivier Daigle overcame a rough first period, but was spectacular the rest of the way making 48 saves in the victory, while Kings netminder Troy Trombley made 42 saves in the loss.
"It's not the way you want to start a game as goalie and at the end of the third goal. I told myself there's nothing else going in," said Daigle.
"I knew if I kept it at three, the guys could pull through. I just told the guys, I will do my job in net and you just keep working away."
It was a rough start for MacEwan even just eight seconds into the contest and it forced a 15-minute delay because of a score clock malfunction.
RDC jumped all over MacEwan when play resumed. They took a 1-0 lead just 4:17 in when Chase Thudium converted a nice feed from his brother Dylan. Then the Kings struck for two quick goals just 48 seconds apart to put MacEwan in a massive hole not even 14 minutes into the game.
Magnes' goal late in the first period cut the Kings lead to 3-1, but MacEwan was thoroughly dominated in the opening 20 minutes, getting outshot 18-7.
Garan Magnes celebrates after getting the Griffins on the board late in the first period (Matthew Jacula photo).
The Griffins turned the tables in the second period and if it wasn't for some big time stops from Trombley in the middle stanza, MacEwan could've easy gained the lead right there.
Njaa's power play marker with 4:57 left in the second period gave the Griffins momentum heading into the third.
"The message was to just stay with it. We believe in how we play and the process it's going to take. I didn't think we skated or competed the way we needed to, but we changed that for the second (period), and the results started to come and we chipped away," said Ringrose.
In his four-year career with MacEwan, Daigle has come up large with some heroic efforts in the crease for the Griffins and, in the third period, he was up to his old tricks again.
Daigle flew across his crease to deny Kings forward Scott Ferguson who had a wide open net to shoot at.
Then, moments later, he flashed the leather with a big glove save on an odd-man rush.
That led to Njaa's tying goal in the final minute.
Njaa, took the puck in the neutral zone and turned on the jets, cutting across the crease to beat the Kings defender and did his best Bobby Orr impression, tucking the puck past Trombley while flying through the air after the defenceman hit him.
"It was hell of a goal. He pretty much willed the puck in the net. That's a big goal from a guy who plays his best hockey in big moments," said Ringrose.
There were more big moments in the overtime even before Morrison's OT dramatics.
Daigle denied Kings forward Chance Longhorn on a breakaway early in the first overtime session, and then pulled out more magic with another breakaway save late in the first overtime off of Ross Heidt.
"It's like poker, this is your hand and you have to deal with it, and I knew I had to come up with that big save," said Daigle.
"That's playoff hockey, that's how team's win championships. There are those big moments, and those were big saves, but the whole group did something tonight for us to have success.
"We continued to battle and later we get that faceoff win, and Morrison's shot on net hits one of their guys in front and goes in. We just never stop believing."