Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – There was no rust, no hesitation and no indication that the Griffins hadn't played a hockey game in 13 days.
On Friday night, they jumped right into the dune-buggy, jammed it into fifth gear and stomped the gas pedal to the floor.
As a result, MacEwan had a 2-0 lead over the visiting Red Deer College Kings after 20 minutes and never looked back in a 4-1 victory that gives them a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference men's hockey semifinal.
They can eliminate the Kings from the playoffs with a win at Red Deer's home barn on Saturday night (7 p.m., Penhold Arena).
"I thought we started very well," said Griffins interim head coach Michael Ringrose. "We were really good. We were hungry coming off the bye week and that's exactly what we wanted to be.
"We were able to get ourselves a bit of a cushion. The game tightened up as the game went along. They pulled their goalie late and applied some pressure, but ultimately, I thought we got what we deserved this evening. It's time to refocus and prepare and get ready for tomorrow."
Austin Yaremchuk threw a puck on net from the point just under three minutes into the contest and in the ensuing scrum, Sean MacTavish poked it past goalie Troy Trombley to open the scoring.
Before the first was out, Brett Smythe flew into the zone and dished wide to Cam Gotaas, who blasted what would prove to be the game-winner past Trombley.
"The goal was a very nice pass from Smythe there," said Gotaas, who added two assists and was named player of the game for the Griffins. "It was kind of a broken play and we got a 3-on-2. I just got it to the middle and shot – just tried to catch him off guard. I was lucky enough it went in."
RDC got on the board at 10:33 of the second period when a bad line change by the Griffins defence allowed Lynnden Pastachak to walk in alone on Marc-Olivier Daigle and deposit it in the net.
But it would prove to be just a blip on the radar for MacEwan, who regained a two-goal lead just under five minutes later when Nolan Yaremchuk converted a Gotaas pass.
Jacob Schofield put it away with a backhand tally just 1:45 into the final frame on, you guessed it, another Gotaas feed.
"My guys got open for me," said Gotaas. "I just put it in a spot where they could shoot it. Nolan did a great job to get in the open cross-crease. I put it on his tape and he made no mistake. Schofi, me and him know where each other are, so I just put it in a spot where he was. I don't know how it went in, but he must have made a beautiful move."
Daigle made 33 saves, coming up big, especially in the third period when the Griffins were outshot 13-4 as the Kings made a furious push to get within striking distance. Trombley stopped 28 of 32 for RDC.
"Dags was outstanding tonight," said Ringrose. "He made a few key saves. We bent a little bit and he was there to make sure we didn't break.
"They pushed hard – we knew they would. We were able to hold on when we needed to and push back when we had the opportunity."
The Griffins know the Kings aren't going to go quietly into the night and they're fully expecting a massive push-back in Game 2 on Saturday night.
"They're a really good team," said Gotaas. "(We need to have a) short memory. Enjoy it tonight and take the positives away, but tomorrow we come right back at it. Going back to their barn, they're a good team and they're going to want to send it back here, so we want to put them away when we can."
Game 3, if necessary, would return to Edmonton on Sunday (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).