Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Relying heavily on their penalty killing units to snuff out a whopping seven Concordia Thunder powerplays, the MacEwan Griffins scored a 5-2 win over their Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference rival on Saturday night at Clareview Arena.
With the result, the Griffins maintained a grip on third in the ACAC standings at 15-5-1-0, five shy of first-place NAIT with three games in hand.
"We took a lot of penalties," said MacEwan head coach Michael Ringrose of the 18 minutes in Griffins infractions. "We had to lean our penalty kill tonight and they were exceptional.
"Any time you've got to kill as much as we did, you're leaning on guys to block shots and commit to competing in those situations and we did that very well. They're a big reason why we came out on top."
Concordia actually had 24 minutes in penalties, but a 10-minute misconduct to Scott Allen in the third period is included in that total, so it equalled MacEwan holding the man advantage five times in the contest.
They would score on their first powerplay opportunity as Cam Gotaas made Concordia's Nick Tupper pay for a tripping penalty early in the opening frame. Just 22 seconds later, Nolan Yaremchuk put the Griffins up 2-0.
The Thunder cut the lead in half when Chad Hurtubise beat Marc-Olivier Daigle midway through the second period, but MacEwan rookie Nicolas Correale restored the two-goal advantage heading to the third.
Brett Njaa made it 4-1 with 11:40 remaining before Adam Wheeldon pulled the Thunder within two just over a minute later.
But Correale put the capper on the night with his second of the contest to salt away the win with 8:14 left. As good as the rookie from Kamloops, B.C., was on the offensive end, he was even better defensively, leading MacEwan's penalty killing efforts.
"He got himself in front of two or three shots," said Ringrose. "Then he turned around and scored a couple of big goals for us. Just an exceptional performance from him tonight. His line with Njaazy and MacTavish, they were very good. The three of them drove our offence and Nic contributed in other ways as well.
"But I don't want to sell anyone else on that penalty killing unit short," he stressed. "To a man, they were all exceptional. They did a very good job. We took some penalties that we shouldn't have and went to the box more than we needed to, so we're fortunate we were as good as we were on the kill."
Njaa finished with a goal and two assists, while MacTavish had three assists for the Griffins who finished off a weekend sweep of Concordia (also beating them 6-4 on Friday) in their first action since Jan. 25 when teammate Nakehko Lamothe passed away following a game in Calgary.
The Griffins' efforts against Concordia – who are 19 points below them in the standings – were far from perfect, which is understandable, given the emotional toll of the last few weeks. But they still managed four points as they kick off a stretch drive vying for a third-straight ACAC Championship.
"That was my message after the game," said Ringrose. "It's nice to get going again. The results we got this weekend were the results we were looking for. It certainly wasn't our prettiest game either night, but it was an effective one that got the job done.
"As a group, we're continuing to work at getting back to the day-to-day and this weekend was a huge step forward for that."
Next up for the Griffins is a home-and-home series against UAlberta-Augustana (14-7-1-0) on Feb. 15-16 with Friday's game at home (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).