Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
It goes without saying that having the opportunity to play against the likes of Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto and other top prospects in the Edmonton Oilers organization is tremendous for members of the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team.
On Sept. 13 (7 p.m., Rogers Place), 10 Griffins players will suit up as part of a combined MacEwan-NAIT all-star team against an Oilers rookies squad that could possibly include the two first-round picks.
Tickets for the game go on sale at edmontonoilers.com on Thursday, Aug. 24 at 10 a.m. (general admission – $20, plus applicable fees).
"I think everyone's really excited about it," said Griffins men's hockey interim head coach Michael Ringrose. "You talk to the players … a lot of the initial meetings and conversations I had, they had heard the rumour flying about and were really excited about it.
"I think it's great for the program. It's going to be great for recruiting in the future. Having the opportunity to play in that game is certainly something people will consider and look at when they're choosing a program to spend their university career with."
The inaugural MacEwan-NAIT squad for the annual event will feature six forwards, three defencemen and one goaltender from each of the institutions. Ringrose and NAIT head coach Tim Fragle will soon meet to select a lineup that will need to temporarily put aside a fierce ACAC rivalry and become teammates.
Just five months ago, the Griffins defeated the Ooks in a best-of-three ACAC final series to claim their first conference championship since 2004. There were hard hits, boiling tempers and bitter feelings that will need to put in the past for the common goal of giving the Oilers' rookies a solid test.
"Obviously, that was a great series," said Ringrose, who is taking over at the helm of the program from Bram Stephen, who left MacEwan after the championship season. "It's a heated rivalry, but this is also an opportunity for you to play against some of the best up-and-coming players in the world.
"It's competitive between the two programs on the ice, but off the ice there's friendships and relationships in place," he added. "I know Tim. I worked with him for eight years at Vimy (Ridge Academy).
"I'm familiar with their roster and Tim's familiar with our roster and I think coming together to play this game is going to add to the rivalry we have once we step on the ice against each other."
It certainly will also serve to increase exposure for high-level ACAC hockey to the greater Edmonton hockey fan base.
"It's definitely a showcase for the ACAC," said Ringrose. "You're going to have people that aren't familiar with the league who are coming out to watch it for the first time. They're going to realize just how good the calibre of hockey is and hopefully we'll see some of those people come back and enjoy regular season games. Maybe it becomes another option for them when they're looking to spend their entertainment dollars."
The Griffins will open their 2017-18 season on Oct. 6 in Calgary against SAIT before returning for their home opener on Oct. 7, also against the Trojans (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena). A special pre-game banner-raising ceremony to honour the 2017 ACAC champion Griffins will precede the contest.
MacEwan and NAIT will meet for the first time since the finals on Oct. 20 (7 p.m., NAIT Arena) and Oct. 21 (6 p.m., DCA).
There's no doubt getting a chance to sharpen their skills against the Oilers rookies will help the Griffins get set for their title defence campaign.
"I think any time you get an opportunity to challenge yourself against some of the top up-and-coming players in the world, it's a good measuring stick for you as an individual athlete, but also for the group who gets to play with them, seeing how quickly they play the game, how much pace they have," said Ringrose.
"Having the ability to measure yourself and evaluate some of the areas you need to get better at is a good thing heading into the season."