Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Kicking off a weekend where the rookies rose to prominence, accounting for four of five goals the MacEwan Griffins scored in a two-game series against UAlberta-Augustana, Chase Miller broke the ice first last Friday.
It's a tally he will not soon forget – the first one of his university career.
"That was a fun one to get on the board there," he said of the first period goal, which put MacEwan ahead 1-0. "Basically, the puck just poked out in the neutral zone to their defenceman and I was able to get a stick on his stick and deflect his pass.
"It ended up giving me a nice little breakaway on their goalie there and I found the top right corner, so it was nice to get on the board, especially going the first four games without a point."
Unfortunately, the Griffins lost both weekend contests to the Vikings (3-2 and 4-3), but the positives signs of growth their rookies took will serve them well as the team continues to regenerate its status as a contender after turning over half the roster in the off-season.
"It's getting to the point in the season they're starting to feel more and more comfortable with the systems," said interim head coach Sean Ringrose, who also got scoring from first-years Zach Webb, Kole Gable and Jordan Taupert, while rookie Brayden Hyland and Joseph Karpyshyn contributed assists. "It's feeling more like a habit for them and they're getting adjusted to the league, the pace of play, the bigger players that come with playing in the ACAC. They've managed to really start to contribute and create offence for the team.
"That's a promising sign for us. We pride ourselves on being a four-line team. If you've got offence coming from a number of sources, you're just that much more difficult to stop."
The Griffins (3-3-0-0) will try to put that growth into action this weekend when they host Briercrest (3-1-1-1) on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (1 p.m., both games Downtown Community Arena).
"I think our rookie corps kind of started off a little bit slower, just adjusting to all the systems, but if you look at everyone's background, every single guy who came from the AJ (Alberta Junior Hockey League) was a top 20-25 scorer, so everyone has the potential to produce a lot of points, and I think it's just going to get better and better as we go throughout the year," said Miller.
Miller is among those after producing 23 goals and 61 points in 60 games with the AJHL's Calgary Mustangs last season, adding another eight points in six playoff contests. Still, the level of the ACAC tested him early.
"There's been a big adjustment," the Calgarian noted. "It's a lot older, the game's played quite a bit different in my opinion – it's faster, bigger, everything's more structured, too.
"It's definitely an adjustment and it's definitely a much more difficult league than I expected it to be."
At least he has his longtime linemate by his side. He grew up with Karpyshyn in the Calgary Royals hockey association before they played together a season in Kimberley (KIJHL) and two seasons on the Mustangs.
No surprise, Ringrose has them paired together again on the Griffins with second-year Ryan McKinnon.
"We definitely know each other's style of play," said Miller. "Joe is a really good goal scorer (27 goals and 63 points in 60 games in the AJHL last season). He hasn't found the back of the net yet, but I'm sure it's going to come pretty soon for him."
Just as it's starting to come for Miller.
"Chase is a guy that when he's going he's got some real high-end speed," said Ringrose. "So, when he's moving his feet and going in a game, he creates chances just with his speed. He can also shoot the puck really well and he's done a good job distributing the puck as well.
"The last couple of games he's been playing with a bit of confidence. That line's had a couple goals and I think they've had three or four over the last two or three games here. They're really starting to make a push offensively, which is nice to see. Hopefully that continues."
After dropping two to UAA last weekend, the Griffins are aiming for a bounce back against a Briercrest team that looks stronger than they've been in years past; in fact they split with UAA earlier this season and tied SAIT.
"Briercrest is playing a lot better this year," said Ringrose. "They believe in themselves. It's a huge weekend upcoming for us to get our confidence going.
"I thought we played a couple pretty good games, we just made some mistakes and need to shore up some things and play consistently the right way all the time. It's a process we're going through that we're continuing to get better each weekend. I'm anticipating that we'll have a bounce back weekend and we'll be ready to play a full 60 minutes for both games."