Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – MacEwan University's hockey programs continue to make history.
A year ago, the Griffins won men's and women's Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference hockey championships in the same season for the first time.
Now, they've both repeated as champions in 2018 to make MacEwan the first ACAC institution to win back-to-back hockey titles in the same season in both leagues.
Since women's hockey joined the men's discipline as an ACAC sport in 2000, no other institution managed to achieve that feat … until now.
"I think it's a testament to the resources that the university has been able to provide us," said Griffins men's hockey coach Michael Ringrose, whose team beat the NAIT Ooks 4-1 on Sunday night to claim their second-straight title. "You look at where the program's come over the past five years. We feel like we're just scratching the surface.
"We've got a brand-new building, top of the line facilities and great support staff, all the way through from our medical staff all the way up through our game day staff to our Director of Athletics. Everyone's pulling in the same direction and it's exciting to be a part of."
Lindsay McAlpine's Griffins women's hockey team was in full attendance at NAIT Arena on Sunday, cheering the men on to victory nine days after winning their second-straight championship over the Red Deer College Queens.
"The camaraderie between the teams has been ongoing and especially strong these past five years," said McAlpine, who has been named the ACAC's women's hockey coach of the year in back-to-back seasons. "I think a lot of the credit goes to the leadership duo of (captains) Ryan Benn and Sydney Thomlison.
"I think the programs push each other to be better while at the same time offering unbelievable support for one another. I've been involved in programs in the past where that doesn't exist."
MacEwan Director of Athletics Ken Schildroth is proud of the character of both teams and how they embraced the university's three pillars of a student-athlete: Academics, Athletics and Community Service.
"I'm humbled by the performance of the student-athletes and coaches," he said. "The credit goes to them that they've been able to accomplish something significant in the ACAC that's never been done before. It's representative of their overall commitment to the MacEwan ideals of academic excellence, sport excellence and giving back to the community. They're giving back to each other.
"I think it was one of our coaches who coined the term 'low ego and high output.' That's representative of both of those teams and it percolates through all aspects of their sport engagement that they're giving of themselves to the community and the university."
Griffins men's hockey leadership group Brett Njaa, left, Ryan Benn, Cameron Gotaas, Taylor Bilyk and Nolan Yaremchuk accept the trophy and banner as 2018 ACAC champions at NAIT Arena on Sunday night (Len Joudrey photo).
In his inaugural season as Griffins men's hockey bench boss – first on an interim basis before having that tag removed last week in being named the program's head coach – Ringrose led the squad to second place in the ACAC standings with a 20-7-1-0 record. They finished five points behind NAIT in the standings, but they had a better record than the Ooks since November and finished the season winning 11 of their last 12 games – including two of three against NAIT – to win the championship.
"I'm just proud that when we needed our best in the moment in Game 3, we were able to perform," said Ringrose. "That's a testament to the character we had in the dressing room. The group that we had there never ceases amaze me. They just seem to will themselves to get things done. The leadership and the character in mind is second to none."
McAlpine's squad has a similar story of character. They finished first in the ACAC women's hockey standings with an 18-3-3-0 mark and were nearly unbeatable while working as a team during the playoffs, losing just once in six post-season contests. They celebrated a 3-1 best-of-five series win over RDC and a second-straight banner at Red Deer's Enmax Centrium on March 9.
"The craziest part about being a student-athlete is you get to enjoy those moments and relish them and have that exciting championship week, but our girls are back at the grind," said McAlpine. "They have mid-terms coming up and finals.
"I think yesterday being at the men's game was kind of an exciting reliving, in a sense, of our championship. But our girls were in class and midterms Monday morning."
Ringrose noted that cheering section from the women's hockey team made a huge impact on their fortunes in a hostile road NAIT rink.
"That's one thing coming from junior hockey where you don't have that family atmosphere," said Ringrose, who previously coached in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. "You're a family on your team, but you don't have another team that plays the same sport that's right there cheering you on. You don't have a basketball team and a volleyball team.
"That has been one of the things I've enjoyed the most about my time at the institution. You're part of a larger family and you support one another. Our women's team, we certainly do our best to support them. What they did for us in the finals was unbelievable. The way they were there and the support they showed certainly helped push us over the top."
The result is two hockey programs that were once regularly bounced out of the playoffs early or missed them entirely are now turning into juggernauts on the ACAC circuit.
"I think it's a huge turning point in the program," said McAlpine. "To go back to the leadership that Ryan and Sydney have brought to the program is arguably the biggest impact that we've had. They've both been with us for five years. That's a huge feat in itself for MacEwan University sport. We don't have a ton of five-year athletes and I think it's the start of something great for us."