Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Not traditionally known as an offensive juggernaut, the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team has racked up three-straight ACAC Championships playing sound defence with a relentless forecheck.
That makes Friday night's 10-spot they hung on cross-town rival NAIT in a 10-5 victory a welcome addition to the repertoire.
"I would not be surprised if that was an ACAC record in women's hockey," said MacEwan head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "In my time, MacEwan definitely hasn't scored 10."
Shyla Kirwer led the way with the first hat-trick of her post-secondary career, adding an assist for a four-point night, while linemate Chantal Ricker had two goals and an assist to pace the Griffins.
"Shyla is a player that you ask her to adjust something in her game once and she does it the next shift," said McAlpine. "Her growth in her game has definitely been amongst the best I've ever seen or coached. She took pucks hard to the net today, was always around the net area.
"Along with her linemates Ricky and Shyla Jans, they had great chemistry. That trio kind of got going last weekend against NAIT and carried it into today. I'm really proud of the growth she has taken."
It wasn't always destined to be such a great season opener for the Griffins, though.
"To be honest, things unfortunately had to go a little bit wrong at the start for us to make it right, if that makes sense," said McAlpine. "We didn't get the start we were looking for."
Just over 11 minutes into the game, NAIT took a 3-1 lead and chased MacEwan starter Natalie Bender from the net.
"Not that they were all Bender's fault, but sometimes you (change) something and that's what we went for," said McAlpine, who sent rookie goalie Brianna Sank in for the final 48+ minutes of the game. "The team responded really well and got a couple of powerplay goals and we kind of kept rolling from there.
"We definitely turned the game around in the second period and continued into the third. We played Griff hockey like we know that we can. We just ended up capitalizing a lot tonight."
Megan Leblanc had two goals and an assist to pace the Ooks in a losing effort. MacEwan also managed to chase NAIT starter Kaitlyn Slator after she allowed six goals against through two periods.
As uncharacteristic as the scoring spree was for a Griffins team often snake-bitten last season, so was the fact they allowed five goals against. In 2018-19, MacEwan led the league with just 29 goals against in 24 regular season games.
"There's some things that we need to walk away and learn from," said McAlpine. "NAIT's a great team and when given powerplay opportunities or point-blank chances they're going to bury them. That's exactly what they did. We had to call on our rookie goalie in her first ACAC game to go in. That's a tough position to be in and she made a couple of really critical saves for us.
"We've prided ourselves in the last three years in the hunt for a championship of being a solid defensive team. It's still an area of the game we're going to focus on, and we need to get back to."
MacEwan will host NAIT on Saturday (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena) in their home opener.