Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – It's been nearly seven months since Cam Gotaas slid across the ice in celebration after scoring the ACAC semifinal series-clinching overtime goal to eliminate the Red Deer College Kings.
On Saturday night, a new hero emerged as the rivals went to overtime again.
Rookie Brayden Hyland took a give-and-go pass from Gotaas in 3-on-3 double overtime and slid the winning goal through Arik Weersink's legs to deliver a 3-2 victory for the MacEwan Griffins in their home opener on Friday night at the Downtown Community Arena.
"I saw we had an opportunity to jump up in the rush and saw Cam out to my right," explained the Edmontonian, who spent last season with the Sherwood Park Crusaders. "I dished it over to him and I think their guy lost me a little bit. He just made a really nice thread to me and I saw the goalie sliding across, so I thought I'd try to slide it five-hole and it ended up working out for me. Unbelievable feeling. First game. Overtime. It's awesome."
The fact the game was even in overtime was due to another hero on the Griffins. Goaltender Marc-Olivier Daigle was masterful – especially in a 21-save first period – in making 40 stops as MacEwan was outshot 42-31 in the contest.
"I think we definitely gave up a lot more than we wanted, especially early in the game," said interim head coach Sean Ringrose. "Daigs did a great job of standing in there. He kept us in the game for probably the first half of it. We turned over way too many pucks.
"We started to get away from that in the second period, but the guys still managed to battle hard defensively. They fought their way through it, and we were able to come back and get the win out of it."
As MacEwan's defence bent but didn't break under a withering attack from the Kings' veteran-laden lineup early in the contest, Daigle's best stop came in the first five minutes when he whipped out a pad to rob Mathieu Lapointe off a one-timer.
He made another point-blank save off Jacob Wozney early in the second.
"He was unbelievable," said Hyland. "He held us in the first period there. That could have been the game right there. If it wasn't for him, we could have lost the game in regulation."
Marc-Olivier Daigle was under siege, especially early in the game, and finished with 40 saves for the Griffins (Joel Kingston photo).
Red Deer's pressure finally paid off eight minutes into the middle frame as Lynnden Pastachak banged a rebound past Daigle on the Kings' 23rd shot of the contest.
But the Kings regained the lead with 10:39 left in the third as Wozney came in on an odd-man rush and sent a snapper past Daigle.
Leave it up to the captain, though. Gotaas tied the game with 6:54 left when he took a Payton McIsaac pass mid-zone, wheeled around and picked the far corner on Weersink.
"We had great efforts from other guys stepping up and tying the game late," said Hyland. "It was a great team win."
Ringrose was pleased to see in-game adjustments from his younger players, who played a big role. Four different rookies found the scoresheet on opening night.
"With that much turnover on the roster, you need to have guys come in and contribute right away," he said of a roster that features 12 first-year players. "You can't have them take half the year to get going. They need to be immediate impact players. That's what these guys have come to do for us. They've come in and played lots of minutes and they've done a great job with it."
The teams will meet again in Red Deer on Saturday night (7 p.m., ACAC TV).
ICE CHIPS ... Prior to the game several alumni were on hand to help unveil MacEwan's latest ACAC Championship banner - their third in a row.
Griffins alumni unveil the program's third banner in a row during a pre-game ceremony on Friday night (Joel Kingston photo).