EDMONTON – A true test of a player's mettle comes when they're thrown into the fire.
Will they persevere through all of the adversity involved to find success on the other side?
Second-year wing Colton Halbersma certainly showed what he's made of during a challenging road trip to Lethbridge in the Griffins' last outing before the semester break.
Playing in front of a hostile crowd, he led MacEwan in scoring with 15 points in just 17 minutes off the bench.
"It was a huge crowd – it was almost a sellout when we played them," said Griffins head coach Mike Connolly of a pair of losses Dec. 3-4. "They were all over us in a hostile environment. It was good for him that he rose to the occasion because we had some guys who just weren't ready to deal with that."
The Sherwood Park product noted he feeds off the energy in a gym, regardless of whether or not fans are cheering for him.
"It was really exciting," he said of a weekend where he produced 22 points in two games, the best performance of his Canada West career to date. "I loved the environment out there. There were tons of fans and it was a very energetic game right from the start.
"I just love playing in front of a lot of people. When the energy in the gym is high, I love going out and trying to make a big play."
The short-handed Griffins will need more of that from Halbersma and key players coming off the bench like him as they are minus a few regulars due to injuries – down to just 10 healthy bodies – for a weekend series vs. cross-town rival Alberta on Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m., both David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
Halbersma knows he has a big challenge in front of him against one of the top teams in the country as Alberta (6-0) was ranked second overall in the final rankings released before Christmas. However, there's another way to look at it.
"I'm just looking at it as an opportunity to go out and show what I can do," said Halbersma. "It does suck that we're down guys, but the 10 of us who are healthy are willing to go after it. We're just looking at it as an opportunity instead of a negative."
Colton Halbersma knows he has an opportunity ahead of him to make a difference for the Griffins, who will be down to 10 men this weekend, due to injuries, against Alberta (Robert Antoniuk photo).
No fear of the fire – exactly the mantra that Connolly is preaching heading into another challenging weekend for a young program that's 0-6 in 2021-22 and building towards bigger and better things.
"People, in general, respond to stresses put on them that they can't control," he said. "If they don't, then they learn that for the next time. I think this will great for our guys to learn. There is no one else that's coming in to save you.
"I think that's going to bring us closer together," he added. "It should. We've had a good week of practices, guys are ready to go. We don't worry about what we can't control, like injuries.
"If we've got to play with five guys, we will and it's my job as a coach to manage the game. We're not defaulting, we're not backing down from anybody, no matter what the situation is."
Following in the footsteps of parents Justin and Julie, who both played basketball for King's University, Halbersma chose the hardcourt over football in high school and wound up leading Strathcona Christian to a 3A provincial bronze medal in his Grade 12 season.
From there, his development has been percolating on MacEwan's bench since the beginning of the 2019-20 season. But it's the hard work he's put in over the COVID period that's allowing Halbersma to break out.
"He's starting to get it now," said Connolly. "He's starting to play hard defensively. His confidence is up. All the work he's done in the off-season with his shot is paying off because he's just shooting it. I think he's becoming mature in his personality and in his game and that's all adding up to results on the floor."
Now, the goal is to just keep rolling. He will certainly be leaned on for some quality minutes down the stretch of the season for a Griffins team hoping to find some success in the conference's season-ending playoff tournament.
"I hope I can just keep it going in the second semester," said Halbersma. "Definitely over the Christmas break on our runs, I felt way different than I did in my first year and in the past. I felt a lot more confident, felt like I definitely could compete and play very well against guys at this level."