Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Darned if the ACAC Championship final between MacEwan and NAIT isn't following the same script as last year.
No team won at home in the 2017 series between the cross-town rivals and two games into this year's version, the road warriors continue to steal the show.
After the Griffins marched out of NAIT Arena on Friday with a 7-3 win, the Ooks took home-ice advantage back on Saturday night with a 3-2 triumph at the Downtown Community Arena.
So, the series will go the distance for a second-straight year with Game 3 set for Sunday (6:30 p.m., NAIT Arena). One team will celebrate with the banner afterward.
"I think if you told us at the start of the year that we'd have an opportunity in a Game 3 to win a championship, regardless of what arena it was in, we'd take it," said MacEwan head coach Michael Ringrose. "Are we going to be motivated tomorrow? Absolutely. Are we going to leave it all out there? I would expect nothing less from that group.
"For us, we have to have a short memory – letting this one go quickly and focusing on tomorrow."
If not for a stretch of play in the second period that they'd love a mulligan on, the Griffins might have made some great memories on Saturday night. But NAIT scored three times in the middle frame and survived a furious MacEwan third-period bid to get within one and will take the series back to their rink.
"We just need to come out hard like we did in Game 1 against them," said Griffins forward Cameron Gotaas. "That's what we did tonight and it was 0-0 (after the first period). Then we just took our foot off the gas in the second. They had some bounces. We didn't get as many bounces. But we gave them some great chances and they capitalized. We had some that we didn't capitalize on, but we earned those two goals at the end. It looked like we were going to come back."
The first period was dead even, with 13 shots apiece and the goalies traded great saves – MacEwan's Marc-Olivier Daigle putting out the pad to rob Jake Mykitiuk's whip-around shot and NAIT's Nathan Park answering less than a minute later with a big stop on Gotaas' one-timer.
The frame ended with an altercation at the benches between NAIT's Jarid Hauptman and MacEwan's Sean MacTavish and resulted in the Ooks player being tossed from the contest under Rule 7.3d (interference from the bench).
Although Hautpman is one of the Ooks' top players and it would seem to be a blow to their chances, it was NAIT who seized the momentum coming out of the infraction, starting the second period strong. Brett Magee opened the scoring just 2:09 into the frame when he one-timed a Jordan Davies pass past Daigle to open the scoring.
Just 51 seconds later, Isaac Farrah went in alone on a breakaway, deked left and went high glove side.
After almost conceding a third goal in a minute-and-a-half, the reeling Griffins called a timeout and settled down … for a while. The Ooks eventually went up 3-0 with 2:51 left in the second when Tanner Younghans jumped on a turnover in the neutral zone, slipped a defender and found the five-hole on Daigle.
"We talked about it after the second. On three plays that we're consistently good at, we weren't," said Ringrose. "The end result was pretty good opportunities for them that they capitalized on. That's on us. It was a lapse there for about 10 minutes in the second period and that ended up being the difference in the game."
It almost didn't cost them because MacEwan nearly rallied back to force overtime on an inspired third-period rally attempt. The Griffins got on the board at 15:16 when Stefan Danielson wired a shot through traffic that eluded Park. At 9:29, they pulled to within one when Ryan Benn pounced on a rebound and ripped it inside the far post.
The Griffins had several chances to tie the contest – the best coming from Brett Njaa, who had Park beat on a snapshot from the slot, but cruelly had it go off the shaft of the goalie's stick and wide.
"We had our opportunities," said Ringrose. "I thought their goaltender made a couple big saves. The character we have in our dressing room, nothing ceases to amaze me with this group. You just can't count them out. When you feel like they're down and out, they find a way to motivate themselves and to push. They believe in one another.
"It's a pretty special group and there's a lot of leadership in that dressing room. For us, it's just about having a short memory and getting ready to go in a big game."
ICE CHIPS … Daigle was named player of the game for the Griffins after making 40 saves … Park stopped 34 in the NAIT net, a redemption for him after getting the hook in allowing four goals on 18 shots in Game 1 … NAIT's player of the game was Younghans, whose goal stood up as the winner.