Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – For her latest feat in an incredible Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference rookie season: Natalie Bender stared down a penalty shot with the score tied and didn't blink.
The MacEwan goalie made 23 saves for her league-leading sixth shutout of the season as the Griffins earned a measure of revenge on the cross-town rival NAIT Ooks with a 1-0 win on Saturday at the Downtown Community Arena to salvage a weekend split.
"She was great," said head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "Obviously, both goalies were really good (Karlee Fetch stopped 29 of 30 for NAIT).
"I don't think (Bender) was tested point blank, but she did have to save a penalty shot two minutes into the third period."
With the goose-egg – the second time she's shut out NAIT this season – Bender pushed her league-leading stats to even more miserly levels (0.49 goals against average and .977 save percentage) and the Griffins remained ahead of the Ooks in a tight battle for first place.
MacEwan (14-3-3-0) is four points up, but NAIT (13-3-1-0) has three games in hand and holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The win was a nice bounce-back result for the Griffins, who lost 3-1 at NAIT Arena on Friday.
"It was a great response," said McAlpine. "We really struggled last night. We just didn't play the way we need to to be successful and tonight we did exactly that.
"We responded really well and did the things that have put us into the position we're in. We bought in and the team played great."
With the game tied 0-0 late in the third, Carley Jewell drove deep into the zone and Raven Beazer took her spot on the point. Beazer took Jewell's back pass and ripped a slapshot on net that Chantal Ricker deflected.
Fetch, playing marvelously, managed to make the first stop, but Ricker got her own rebound and potted the winner with 3:38 remaining. It was her second-straight game with a goal as the second-year forward from Calgary had MacEwan's only tally on Friday.
"It was massive," said McAlpine. "I think we kind of hemmed them in the zone for three to four minutes before that, so one was building and it was nice that we actually capitalized."
So now the Griffins head into a bye week on a high as they prepare for a vigorous stretch run down a path that could lead back to more games against the Ooks.
"It was a really good preview of what I think playoffs could look like against them," said McAlpine.
Ricker and Fetch were named the respective players of the game for their teams.