Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
RED DEER – Natalie Bender's 10th career Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference shutout on Saturday night was perhaps her easiest.
The third-year goaltender had to stop just 12 shots as the MacEwan Griffins' defence stiffened and completely stymied the Red Deer College Queens for a 2-0 victory.
"I wouldn't say she had to make any game-changing saves," said head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "We kept them to the outside, which I was really happy about. I thought we cleaned up our D zone from yesterday.
"But again, it's hard to stay in games where you only have 12 shots and, in the second period, she only faced one. They kind of came with a flurry a little bit in the third, but she held her own and kept it 2-0."
After Friday's more dramatic 5-3 victory over the Queens in Edmonton, McAlpine made a concerted effort to stress defence in the rematch.
"Maybe it took away from our offensive game a little bit, but it's something we need to get better at in the long run," she said.
In completing a weekend sweep of the Queens, the Griffins took control of first place in the ACAC standings. MacEwan (13-3-0-0) is now seven points ahead of runners-up RDC and NAIT (both 9-4-1-0). Both of those teams have two games in hand, but they'll come when they play each other next weekend.
"We knew it was a big weekend," said McAlpine. "Every time we face Red Deer, we know it's going to be a great two-game series. So, when we can come out with four points, it's huge for us.
"We've got some big games coming up and tons of hockey left here in the second half, but it's a good way to start 2020."
Jayme Doyle scored the winning goal on a five-on-three powerplay in the second period, tapping home a back-door pass from Jaime Erickson, who had corralled the rebound from Carley Jewell's point shot.
Chantal Ricker made it 2-0 before the second period was over when she scored her type of goal.
"Ricker's a player who always hunts the puck in that net area and she flirts that line between taking a penalty and popping pucks loose," said McAlpine. "She was rewarded for tracking her own rebound hard, popped one loose that the goalie didn't have full coverage of and was able to redirect it back through her legs."
"We put that line together at the end of the first half," said McAlpine. "There's high expectations on them. You've got a fifth-year and a fourth-year and they're doing just that.
"They bring a very balanced attack, and all offer different strengths in their game that I think is working right now. Hopefully they can keep it going."
Madison Fox made 23 saves for the Queens in the defeat.
MacEwan now heads into a bye week before returning to action on Jan. 24 vs. NAIT (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).