Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Reigning Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference women's hockey playoff MVP Nikki Reimer was in vintage form on Thursday, scoring the game-winner as the MacEwan Griffins downed the Red Deer College Queens 4-2 in Game 1 of their best-of-three semifinal series.
The fifth-year defenceman collected a loose puck and walked in off the blueline before snapping a second-period shot under the bar blocker side for the key goal in a win that puts the Griffins a victory away from advancing to the ACAC final for a third-straight season.
"It was a great goal by Nikki," said head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "To speak to Nikki as a player and a competitor, her emotional investment in a game to win is always there. You know it's going to come out in the playoffs even more and I thought she brought her absolute best game tonight."
Most of the Griffins did, too … for the first two periods anyway.
With a dominant opening 40 minutes, they built a 3-1 lead before surviving a wobbly third period. The Queens pulled within one and forced the Griffins to weather a tense final few minutes with an extra attacker before the home side scored a late empty-netter to escape with victory.
"We've been really trying to bear down on getting more pucks to the net and trying to put them away," said Reimer. "We did take a little dip in the third, but it's really good to get the first one out of the way. It's huge to get the first one of the series, so it's a bit of weight off our shoulders right now. We'll be back ready for Saturday."
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is set for Saturday night in Red Deer (7 p.m., Servus Place). Should a Game 3 be required, it will take place on Sunday (1 p.m., DCA).
If there is a lesson to be learned for the Griffins it's to bear down on stretches of dominant play like they had in the first 40 minutes on Thursday, only to hold just a 3-1 lead.
"I think something we talked about as a coaching staff briefly and then in the room: we need to capitalize on teams in those periods," said McAlpine. "That first period – we were dominant; that second period – we were dominant. Again, we left the game a little too close for comfort.
"It could have been 4-1 or 5-1 and it's a game of coulda, shoulda, woulda. But I think it's definitely a situation we need to play harder in those moments."
Weathering an early Griffins' powerplay that included a mad scramble in front with goalie Karlee Fetch keeping the puck out while on her butt, the Queens scored on their second shot of the game 6:20 into the contest. Ashley Sutherland blasted a point shot into a scramble and Jenessa Fournier picked it out of the pile and sent it underneath Sandy Heim's left pad.
MacEwan tied the game just two minutes later in similar fashion. Dominique Scheurer drove a shot from the point that tipped off a diving defender's stick and Chantal Ricker backhanded it over Fetch's glove.
Shyla Jans gave the Griffins their first lead of the contest 4:35 into the second period when she steamed in off the left wing to pot a juicy rebound off Kyrelle Skoye's blast.
Reimer then put the highlight of the night on tape with a pure snipe.
"It was a battle on the boards – there was a few of us in there – and then I saw it pop loose, so I pulled it into the middle and saw ice, just skated right in," she said.
MacEwan pressed hard for a fourth goal and had multiple glorious chances in a dominant stretch of zone time, including Jaime Erickson's two-on-one blast off a pass from Ricker and Jans' shot off the crossbar.
The Queens capitalized on some defensive miscues by the Griffins to put a bit of pressure on net and were rewarded 6:52 into the final frame when Jordyn Burgar dove to stab a rebound off Kaely McMurty's shot past Heim.
But Erickson sealed the win with 4.3 seconds left when she calmly hit an empty net from the corner of her own zone.
Heim made 22 saves for the Griffins, while Fetch stopped 39 for the Queens.
All in all, it was a solid playoff-opening win for the Griffins, who exhibited some of the best stretches of play they've had all season.
"Just reflecting on our previous years, we always tend to wait a little bit until the playoffs to turn it up," said Reimer. "I feel like that's what we did today."