Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Rally hats weren't even needed, just a bit of championship fortitude and a lot of Chantal Ricker.
The MacEwan Griffins were facing a daunting 2-0 deficit after 20 minutes in Game 2 of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference women's hockey final that might as well have been like climbing K2 given how few goals Ooks tender Kaitlyn Slator has allowed recently.
But the Griffins went to work and ground down the Ooks with a fierce forecheck over the final 40 minutes, scoring three times on the powerplay for a 3-2 victory that gives them a commanding 2-0 series lead in the best-of-five affair.
MacEwan will have up to three chances next week to net the one win they need for a third-straight ACAC Championship.
"I just told them that was the most impressed I've been with them this entire season," said MacEwan head coach Lindsay McAlpine after emerging from a jubilant dressing room post-game. "They responded exactly as we needed them to after taking what I think was a relatively huge dip it that first period. We played on our heels, we let NAIT dictate the pace.
"We absolutely spun that around. We changed the story. We took control of the game from the outset of the second period. We played exactly as we needed to and exactly as we know that we can and came out on top."
NAIT indeed took it to MacEwan in the opening frame, desperate to atone for a 1-0 loss at home in Game 1 on Friday that put them behind the 8-ball in the series.
The Ooks gained momentum off two early penalty kills and were finally rewarded for tons of zone time by opening the scoring 7:46 into the contest. Defenceman Julia Wing blasted a shot from the point that hit off of goaltender Sandy Heim and some traffic in front, pinballing over her and across the line. Brittney Savard was given credit for the tally.
The Ooks kept coming and made it 2-0 less than four minutes later when Rebecca Roszell fed Wynona Creyke from behind the net and she tapped it in off the far post.
At the end of 20 minutes, the Ooks held a 2-0 lead and a 16-8 advantage on shots. They were also backed by Slator – the ACAC rookie of the year – who came into the contest with a sizzling .965 save percentage in the playoffs so far.
The thing is, though, as NAIT's only goaltender, she's played every game of the season for the Ooks. Ricker felt that was something the Griffins could take advantage of.
"She's their only goalie and she's been playing every game all year," said the power forward. "She's got to be tired. She looked tired. We just had to get all pucks to the net and bodies – take away her eyes and then work from there."
Jill MacWilliam made a nifty skate to stick move and was tripped up by Tanel Boeckman, giving the Griffins a second-period powerplay that would change their fortunes. Ricker took a pass from Jaime Erickson and ripped it under the bar to get MacEwan on the board with 9:07 left in the middle frame.
Continuing to lead the charge with her fearless bull-in-a-china shop style, Ricker scored again for the Griffins, beating Slator on a back-door wraparound less than four minutes into the third period to tie the game.
"Everyone always tells me 'the wraparound's not going to work.' When I do it, they're shocked and amazed and pumped up," she said.
Ricker, a third-year forward from Calgary, now has four goals in five games for the Griffins in the 2019 post-season.
"Ricker's a playoff player," said McAlpine. "She loves the emotion of the game, she loves playing against NAIT, she loves every situation she can get into and wreak havoc on the other team's goalie. She did exactly that."
Raven Beazer then iced the contest, scoring the game-winner with 9:13 left after Carley Jewell's point blast ping-ponged off a couple of legs and landed fortuitously on her stick at the side of the crease, and she made no mistake. It was MacEwan's third powerplay goal on nine chances as the Ooks fell under the weight of some undisciplined play.
"Our powerplay I thought was a huge issue for us in that first period, but the whole unit's response coming out and being dangerous any time we were given a powerplay was impressive," said McAlpine. "We capitalized regularly on it tonight, so that was awesome."
The Griffins had a fourth goal waved off at 6:15 when, after conferring for more than a minute, the officials deemed the play to be goalie interference.
MacEwan then weathered a storm in the final few minutes including Heim's robbery of Meghan Leblanc on a spectacular glove save with 3:04 remaining to pull out the win. She finished with 26 saves, while Slator had 28 for the Ooks.
The Griffins now have a chance to hoist their third-straight ACAC Championship trophy next Thursday at NAIT Arena for Game 3 (7 p.m.).
"I think we just need to keep doing what we're doing, just keep having that team-first mentality," said Ricker. "We're amazing on the road, so we need to come out in that first five minutes and control the game."
Game 4 of the series (March 15, 7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena) and Game 5 (March 16, 6 p.m., NAIT Arena) will only be played if necessary.