Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – From the dawn of time in hockey, there has existed "the rat."
If this player plays for your team … you love them (ask longtime Edmonton Oilers fans about Kenny Linsemen or Esa Tikkanen).
If this player plays against your team … you loathe them (ask anyone not a fan of these guys' squads about Matt Cooke, Sean Avery or Brad Marchand).
MacEwan Griffins women's hockey forward Chantal Ricker doesn't have the same level of infamy that those NHL "rats" have, but she sure knows how to get under opponents' skin.
That she does it all with a smile on her face gets their goat even more.
"It's kind of funny. Everyone always goes after me because I'm known as the rat on our team," said the third-year Arts major. "It gets frustrating at the moment because you're always on the ice, on the ground, especially in front of the net. They do not let you go there."
It's highly unlikely she's on their Christmas card list either.
"They hate me," she said. "Absolutely.
"I've heard coaches say 'you need to watch her and stay on her. Just do not let her have space and go at her.' "
Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine doesn't doubt that.
"I'm sure other coaches definitely have a target on Ricker," she said. "She's someone who gets under the teams' skins. I think she aggravates easily.
"She likes to play that rat-like hockey game and she does it very well for us and does it without taking a ton of penalty minutes either."
At her best carving out space around the net and stealing attention to free up other teammates, Ricker is a big driver of offence on the Griffins, even if she doesn't exactly describe herself as a prototypical goal scorer.
"I don't think I'm the fancy kind of goal scorer – more the garbage goal," she said with a smile.
In leading the Griffins to an 8-2-0-0 start to the campaign, Ricker has nine points in 10 games.
The Calgarian, who led the Griffins with 10 goals last season, en route to an Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference second team all-star award, notes she came by the "rat" moniker by accident.
"I picked that up our first year because Lindsay wanted someone to fill that role," she said. "I may have accidentally got myself into that."
Ricker will lead the Griffins out of a bye week into action against the SAIT Trojans this weekend Friday in Calgary (7 p.m., ACAC TV) and Saturday in Edmonton (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).
Her physical play around the net front will be welcome against a team that can play the body well, even if the wins haven't come for them (1-9-0-0 and in the ACAC cellar entering the weekend).
"(Chantal's) a big body that gets the puck to the net," said McAlpine. "She loves to play in the dirty areas of the ice whether it's the low corners in our D zone, the net front or their net front and she ends up getting rewarded a lot doing it."
The bye week came at a great time for Ricker, who was hurt during MacEwan's last game on Nov. 2 vs. Olds, but should be good to go this weekend after two weeks of rest.
"The timing was excellent for us, actually," said McAlpine. "It was mid-term week. We had a heavy pre-season and then 10 games straight. I don't think we've ever played 10 games straight before the bye. It was just the way the schedule was set up this year.
"There were some bodies that needed to heal and I think it was perfect timing for us."
The Griffins and Trojans last met on the season-opening weekend Oct. 5-6 with MacEwan skating away with 1-0 and 5-2 wins. The Griffins blanked Olds 4-0 in their last outing and share top spot in the ACAC standings with NAIT.
SAIT enters the weekend on a four-game losing streak after getting swept by Red Deer College last weekend.
"Two huge weekends coming up here with SAIT and NAIT," said McAlpine, whose team will close out the first semester against the Ooks Nov. 23 at home and Dec. 1 in a special outdoor game in Falun, Alta. "It's obviously four huge games for us going into the break."