Austin Connelly, For MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Ashley Smith made 39 stops to stonewall the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team and lift the NAIT Ooks to a 2-1 win on Hockey Fights Cancer night Friday at the Downtown Community Arena.
In suffering their second-straight defeat, the Griffins fall to 7-2-0 and are now not only chasing Red Deer College (7-1-1-0) for top spot in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference standings, the Ooks (6-3-0-0) have pulled within striking distance of dropping them to third.
"It's definitely not an effort thing for us," says Griffins head coach Lindsey McAlpine. "I don't think it's a secret that we have a scoring problem and if you take away our players who put pucks in the net, our secondary scoring isn't solid enough so it's something we continue to work on."
Griffins goaltender Natalie Bender had to be sharp early on when she went post-to-post to make a gorgeous pad save on a dangerous NAIT two-on-one opportunity to keep the score 0-0 in the first period, the best of her 23 saves. Both Bender and Smith was dialed in making save after save, neither wanting to give up the first goal of the night.
But, with 17.4 seconds left in the first period, the Ooks would finally break through after Megan Leblanc burst through the middle of the ice, putting a special deke on to get by her defender before shaking Bender and sliding it in for the 1-0 lead.
Scoring has been a problem lately for MacEwan netting just three goals in their last two games.
"We talked about it a lot in the room, but I think we've lacked intensity in the net-front, we don't have a single goal-scorer on the team. We have a lot of solid defensive players and depth, but when we struggle in games (to score) that's where we tend to struggle," says Griffins captain Morgan Casson. "Tomorrow we need to be better to get pucks to the net and get in those dirty areas."
The Griffins would come close a few times to tying the game up in the second period – none closer than when Breanna Golosky who came bursting down the left side of the ice to win the loose puck but couldn't solve Smith on her breakaway attempt.
The Griffins finally broke through late in the second period on a powerplay when Jaime Erickson's point shot was deflected in by Casson.
The physicality of the game only intensified as the periods went on and the heated Edmonton rivals made the other work for every inch they got on the ice, but the Griffins would break first.
After a failed clearing attempt, the Ooks pounced on a loose puck and Bre Martin shook free from a defender before releasing a quick wrister from the left face-off dot that beat Bender low blocker side with 11:18 remaining in the third period.
"We knew coming into the year that Red Deer and NAIT were two great teams and that it was probably going to be a fight with those two top teams, so this weekend is huge for us and we now need to salvage the split," says McAlpine.
The Griffins are back in action Saturday night when visit the Ooks at NAIT Arena (6 p.m., ACAC TV).