Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
RED DEER – A complete antithesis to the heroic, epic nature of the opening contest of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference semifinal, Game 2 of the MacEwan Griffins' men's hockey showdown against Red Deer College on Friday night was played in the mud.
Passes died, breakouts were stymied, dump-ins were sent right back out, defencemen cleared the front of the net and the goalies refused to allow anything for 66 minutes and six seconds.
Eventually, RDC's Dylan Thudium finally beat Griffins goaltender Marc-Olivier Daigle to decide it 1-0 in the home team's favour, potting a powerplay rebound with 3:54 left in the first overtime.
That means the best-of-three series is headed the distance; do-or-die Game 3 will go on Saturday night (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena) with the winner off to the ACAC final.
"It was a little bit of a choppy game – not a lot of clean opportunities either way," said Griffins head coach Michael Ringrose. "I thought we had the better chances in the first two periods and they had the better opportunities in the third period and overtime, and were able to find a way to get a goal on the powerplay.
"The margin of error between these two teams is extremely small, so one bounce or one break is the difference in the hockey game," he added. "Credit to them for coming back with a strong effort tonight."
Both teams put on a bit of a defensive clinic, which made the contest decidedly duller than Thursday's memorable 4-3 Griffins' overtime win in Game 1 where they rallied back from a 3-0 deficit to win.
Fittingly, the player of the game for the Griffins was hard-nosed rookie defenceman Andrew Kartusch, who consistently crumpled up Kings' rushes and tossed them back out of the zone like he was playing office basketball with scraps of paper.
RDC did the same thing, though, as MacEwan struggled to string passes together and often settled for perimeter shots.
"There weren't a lot of Grade A opportunities," said Ringrose. "I thought both teams defended exceptionally well. The difference was very small. Defence was on display both ways and the end result is a 1-0 game. They got the goal tonight, we got it last night, so we'll go to Game 3 and go from there."
Troy Trombley was solid in the net for RDC, making 33 saves for the shutout. The closest the Griffins came to beating him was when Dallas Smith steamed in on a breakaway at 14:09 of the third period and put the puck into Trombley's pads, watching as it and the goalie appeared to cross the line together. Unfortunately, the net came off in the process and it was waved off.
Daigle also made 33 saves for the Griffins, many of them late in the third period and overtime as the Kings poured on the most pressure they had all game.
The one that finally beat him was off a broken play near the blueline as Griffins penalty killers lost the puck in their skates, the Kings recovered and Chase Thudium sent a low blast in off Daigle's left pad that went right to brother Dylan, parked alone in front, for an empty-net tap-in.
It was the second-chance opportunity both teams were searching for all game. Ultimately, the Griffins just couldn't get enough traffic in front of Trombley to force things in their favour earlier in the night.
"I think traffic's always key at this level," said Ringrose. "He's a good goaltender and you can't let him see the puck. I just generally didn't think either team generated a ton of really Grade A opportunities.
"I thought both goaltenders had to make some key saves," he continued. "Their goaltender made them early and our goaltender made them late. It pushes the game to overtime and we take two penalties, and they're able to get one on the powerplay. That's the game.
"Tomorrow we'll regroup and focus on getting back to work, leave it all out there and we'll see what happens."
Nothing changes for the Griffins even though it will be a do-or-die contest with the winner headed to the finals and the loser headed to the off-season.
"Just play, that's the message," said Ringrose. "Game 3 is not any different than any other game we've played this year. What's going to make us successful is the same process and same things that have made us successful for the entire year.
"For us, we'll watch game tape, we'll make some minor adjustments, put some fuel back in the tank and we'll get ready to go again."