Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Whistled for five-straight penalties against them in less than five minutes spanning the late second and early third periods, the MacEwan Griffins' under-siege penalty killing units conceded three quick powerplay goals and fell 6-2 to the Red Deer College Kings on Wednesday night.
The Kings, who held two 5-on-3 advantages during that stretch, scored three times in the span of 1:24 to break open a game that was tied 2-2.
"Whether the calls were warranted is debatable, but we ended up in the box and they capitalized," said MacEwan head coach Michael Ringrose. "Our special teams weren't good enough tonight."
Entering the third period on a four-minute powerplay after Brett Magee was assessed a late second period high sticking double minor, the Kings took a 3-2 lead when Chase Thudium converted Dylan Thudium's cross-ice zone pass a minute into the frame.
With the goal coming just 11 seconds before Magee's first two minutes expired, he stayed in the box. Fellow Griffins defender Andrew Kartusch joined him on a slashing call just 27 seconds after Thudium's tally, putting the Griffins down two men.
RDC needed just 16 seconds on the 5-on-3 to take a 4-2 lead when Mathieu Lapointe slipped his defender in front and one-timed home a Lynnden Pastachak pass from behind the net.
Just 35 seconds later, Ryley Smith chipped a Dylan Thudium centring pass past Marc-Olivier Daigle, also on the powerplay, to put the game out of reach.
"For us, we've got to regroup and get ready for the weekend, but it's disappointing in the third period to not have an opportunity to just play," said Ringrose. "I thought we had earned that much to that point in the game. I thought that the way the game unfolded itself was unfortunate for everyone."
With the result, the Kings (17-7-1-1) move within a point of the Griffins (18-7-1-0) for second place in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference standings heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
Coupled with a 3-0 loss to RDC last Friday in Sylvan Lake, the Griffins have put forth two efforts they'd rather forget.
"Right from the get-go we weren't ready to play in a big game and that's something we're going to have to change heading into playoffs," said MacEwan captain Cam Gotaas. "We had a good second (period). I thought we were really good in the second and gave ourselves a chance.
"You can say what you want about the calls – we might have been dealt a tough hand. But at the end (of the day), we were in that game, but we weren't mentally ready to take it."
MacEwan had a disjointed first period but still managed to take an early lead when Brett Njaa kicked off a solid night of play by throwing a deke on Kings goalie Arik Weersink and depositing it into an open net 10:42 into the game.
Just over three minutes later, though, the Kings got on the board when Tyler Podgorenko tipped Donovan Lumb's shot past Daigle.
The Griffins took to the powerplay not long after that with a chance to regain control of the contest only to give up a 2-on-1 shorthanded break that the Kings scored on as Austin Hunter one-timed Scott Ferguson's pass into the cage.
MacEwan scored the only goal of a second period they dominated as Njaa notched No. 2 on the evening by stealing it in front and sniping one under the bar at 11:56.
"He played good," said Gotaas. "He was good against us in Sylvan Lake. But those were two big games and we just weren't mentally ready for them. I thought we were good in the second, but it's something we have to figure out."
After RDC's three-goal barrage to open the third, the Griffins were up against it in attempt to fight back and Ringrose pulled Daigle for an extra attacker with just under five minutes left. Dylan Thudium hit the empty net from his own blueline with 3:35 remaining to complete a four-point night (a goal and three assists).
Weersink finished with 36 saves, while Daigle stopped 31.
Reeling from two-straight losses, how quickly the Griffins can regroup could spell their destiny this season.
"We've played a lot of hockey in a short period of time," said Ringrose. "That's two games in a row where we've come out and been flat off the get-go. If we're going to be successful we need to be emotionally invested in what we're doing on the ice and that needs to change in a hurry for us."
Despite the losses, MacEwan is still alive for top spot in the ACAC standings, but they would need to sweep first-place NAIT (20-6-0-0) this weekend to accomplish that. They host the Ooks on Friday (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena) before visiting them on Saturday (6 p.m., NAIT Arena).
RDC, meanwhile, will travel to Briercrest (6-19-1-0) for games on the same days. While the Clippers won't quite be the easy out their record suggests considering they're one point back of Concordia for the final playoff spot, the Griffins know they must take care of their own business.
"We control our own fate," said Gotaas. "We know if we win out we get our bye, but we've dug ourselves a hole and we're going to have to use it as a learning experience.
"The past two years, even when we've won it, we've had games that we could easily have been out of, but we were just mentally tough to stay in it. Today wasn't one of them."