Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – One of these days, graduating senior Morgan Casson will have played her last game in a MacEwan Griffins uniform.
Oh, how they will miss her.
The Griffins captain added a bonus chapter to her playoff legend with yet another playoff game-winning goal to lead MacEwan past a feisty SAIT Trojans squad 4-2 in Game 1 of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference women's hockey semifinal on Thursday at the Downtown Community Arena.
With a defender draped on her like a backpack in front of the SAIT crease, Casson got one hand free and chipped a powerplay rebound off Jaime Erickson's shot past goaltender Kaylin Schellenberg 2:38 into the third period to break open a tied game and send the Griffins on their way.
"We just talked between periods right before that shift that the rebounds were popping out a little bit higher, so I had that in the back of my mind where to be," said Casson. "It was just great movement. Our powerplay's been the best it has been this season. The rebound was there, and it was just a battle to put it in, but we just found away."
Casson's career is filled with heroic clutch goals, including scoring the overtime winner over SAIT to deliver MacEwan's first of three-straight championships in 2017, and the OT winner that sealed a sweep over NAIT in the 2019 final.
"Those are the goals that Morgan scores," stated MacEwan head coach Lindsay McAlpine matter-of-factly. "Morgan's our golden girl in those scenarios. We're looking to the captain when it's 2-2 and she scores a goal like that's straight grit and that's exactly who Morgan is."
The victory is MacEwan's 15th in a row and gives them a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. Game 2 is set for Friday in Calgary (7 p.m., SAIT Arena, ACAC TV). If necessary, Game 3 would be back at the DCA on Saturday (6 p.m., ACAC TV).
The result was in doubt until the third period after the Trojans, fresh off a sweep of Olds College in the final weekend of regular season play to qualify for the playoffs, played as hard as they ever have against the Griffins, who finished 27 points above them in the standings.
"I think it was a storm we knew we'd have to weather – us coming off a bye and them coming off a weekend where they were fighting for their life," said McAlpine, whose team was outshot by SAIT 13-11 in the first period. "I think SAIT's trending in the right direction, we weren't going to take them lightly. They came out exactly as we expected.
"We didn't play the first period we wanted, but this team's resilient and we were able to bounce back in the second. From that point we kind of carried the momentum."
MacEwan still managed to get out of the first period with a 2-1 lead, thanks to a powerplay markers from Chantal Ricker and Sydney Hughson.
Ricker opened the scoring 7:06 into the contest when Carley Jewell sent a slap pass to her for a tap in on the back side.
Hughson then got credit for a goal 1:35 later when her centering pass was inadvertently swept past Schellenberg by her own defender.
The Trojans responded, though, with 7:13 left in the first when Brynn Ferguson tapped in a rebound off Tashel Scantlebury's point shot.
"We knew SAIT was going to come out flying," said Casson. "They just had a great weekend against Olds. We knew they were going to come out confident and play hard, play big and play tough. I think it did put us on our heels a bit at the drop of the puck, but we just fought through it and started to play our game."
The ice was tilted in MacEwan's favour for most of the second period and the game would have been out of reach if not for some highlight-reel saves from Schellenberg. Among her 17 second period saves: denying Jayme Doyle on a rebound at 10:42, robbing Ricker on a one-timer from five feet out at 5:12 and then leaping backward to catch a puck that Casson tried to chip over her at 5:02.
SAIT tied the game on one of few chances they had in the frame, capitalizing on a breakdown for a 2-on-1 worked to perfection between Karmen Mooney and goal scorer Brittany MacDonald.
Upset in the making or three-time champs trusting the process?
For the Griffins' the latter prevailed.
"Our team has a tendency to not dwell on the negatives, but we don't give ourselves enough credit," said Casson. "Sometimes we have to look back and say, 'no, that was still a really good period.' Although we didn't necessarily win the period, there were so many great things. We had one minor breakdown and it unfortunately showed on the scoreboard.
"We just have to have confidence in ourselves and stay calm in moments like that. It's going to happen again in the playoffs, so we just need to be prepared."
After Casson's winner, Jill MacWilliam added an insurance marker for the Griffins with 4:37 remaining when she stole the puck at the Trojans' blueline, cut across the crease and deposited it far side. The short-handed tally meant MacEwan's special teams got credit for all four goals.
SAIT pulled Schellenberg with 1:43 left and had one of their best chances of the night on Natalie Bender with Kelsey Patterson alone in front for the rebound off Scantlebury's shot.
Bender finished with 29 saves for MacEwan, while Schellenberg had 37 for SAIT.