Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The cliché putting on your game face is one easily thrown around to describe hockey players.
When it comes to MacEwan Griffins defenceman Austin Yaremchuk, there's a literal meaning to that. On team picture day, for four years running, he not only hasn't smiled for the camera, he's gone out of his way to make sure he puts his fiercest face forward.
"You never know who's going to be looking at those pictures, so I like to show my mean side because I'm not mean," he explained of the yearly tradition. "Ever since I came here, I've never smiled for those, but if you look at the team photo, I might have the biggest smile.
"The headshots are all business, but when it comes to the team, I'm happy."
There's some truth in that. Individually, Yaremchuk plays a tough, take no prisoners style of hockey the lends itself well to the gritty style needed to succeed in the defensive zone.
But when it comes to the team, he's all in on and off the ice.
"Austin's a big physical guy who's been around for a long time," said interim head coach Sean Ringrose. "He's one of the veterans on our blueline who we count on to play big, hard minutes.
"He's taken on a larger role this year playing some more powerplay time for us. He's a real effective guy, a leader in the dressing room, he moves pucks well and he plays a physical style back there. He's been really good for us so far. I imagine he'll continue to grow his game as he gets a larger role."
Yaremchuk leads the Griffins (3-1-0-0) into weekend action against UAlberta-Augustana (1-3-0-0). They host the Vikings on Friday (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena, ACAC TV) and visit them in Camrose on Saturday (6 p.m., ACAC TV).
As one of just four returning blueliners on the Griffins, Yaremchuk has already taken on a larger role, adding powerplay time to his already clutch defensive defenceman responsibilities.
His shot from the point on the PP late in last Saturday's 3-2 win over Concordia was tipped in by Cam Gotaas for the game-winning goal.
"Even with just the added powerplay minutes with some of the guys who moved on from last year who ate minutes – (Tyler) Morrison and (Stefan) Danielson – I think Yaremchuk's kind of taken on a few more minutes that way," said Ringrose. "He plays in all situations – powerplay, penalty kill, 5-on-5.
"Like I said, he's a physical guy, so he's a good shutdown defenceman as well. Having that versatility enables him to get a ton of minutes because he's able to play in all those situations."
The 2019-20 season is the first time there's only been one Yaremchuk on the Griffins since 2015-16. Older brother Nolan Yaremchuk graduated from the program last season.
"I do miss my brother," said Austin Yaremchuk, noting the situation is similar to junior when they played together for two seasons in Lloydminster before Nolan moved on to the ACAC. "I liked giving it to him practice and winning those battles against him felt good. I've got to find a new brother I can beat up.
"It's always nice to have him, not only my brother, but all the guys who were there last year," he continued. "We were all so close. It's different going to the rink and not seeing their faces anymore. It's nice to see the new faces, of course, but you kind of get used to the old culture. That's something we're really trying to bring back and carry over. The older guys when I was new to the team – very high-character family-oriented guys – they just cared about getting the job done. That's the culture we want to bring to MacEwan again."
With a young lineup in 2019-20, it hasn't been perfect so far for the Griffins, but they have found a way to win three of their first four games.
"I think for us, our biggest challenge of late has been our consistency," said Ringrose. "We need to play the right way for the entire game, not just small stretches. I think if we're going to be successful against a veteran group like (UAA), we're going to have to minimize our mistakes. That means playing the right way for 60 minutes each night. I think if we do that, we'll be successful."