With strong mix of experience and youth, Griffins ready for Canada West debut at Regina

New Griffins captain Ethan Price gets a solid scoring chance on Alberta goalie Nick Schneider during a preseason game earlier this month (Joel Kingston photo).
New Griffins captain Ethan Price gets a solid scoring chance on Alberta goalie Nick Schneider during a preseason game earlier this month (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The waiting game, the anticipation, the preparation, the roster building – it's all behind the Griffins men's hockey team now as they get set to finally make their Canada West debut on Friday night in Regina.

When the puck drops on their match against the Cougars at 7 p.m. in the Queen City (Canada West TV presented by Co-op), the Griffins will officially be baptized into the ranks of U SPORTS programs.

"It's been a long time coming and we certainly have guys who have waited a couple years and worked towards our debut," said head coach Mike Ringrose, whose team will also meet Regina on Saturday (3 p.m., Canada West TV presented by Co-op). "For it to finally be here, there's definitely an added excitement both on our team and through our alumni. I know that that group of men did a lot to push the program forward and get it ready as well.

"I think collectively we're excited to take that next step."

Ringrose has built a mix of seasoned veterans, university transfers and top-shelf rookies as the Griffins – who finished their tenure in the ACAC with three-straight championships – aim to keep pace with a new higher level of competition that includes perennial national contender Alberta among several other top teams.

MacEwan went 2-4-0 in preseason action against the Golden Bears, Mount Royal University Cougars and Calgary Dinos.

"If you look at our Fridays throughout the preseason, we were outscored 20-3 in three games," said Ringrose, whose team conversely won two of three Saturday games, including finishing their non-conference schedule with a 3-2 victory over Calgary on Oct. 8. "We talked a lot about that with our leadership group this week in making sure we can right the ship there.

"I think as we continue to gain experience at this level, maybe some of those first-night nerves will start to go away," he added. "Everything is new at the moment. If you look at our performance and our game over those three Fridays, it very timid and tentative. We've got to stop just dipping our toe in and just jump a little bit."

When they do, they have the potential to surprise some teams. While there are certainly some players to watch in the Griffins' lineup, Ringrose noted their success will come from the sum of the parts.

"Collectively, for us to be successful on the ice, we're going to have to get contributions from up and down the lineup," he said. "I'm excited to say that today we've certainly seen that. We have a very collective approach to our program on and off the ice and it's nice to see."

Up front, the Griffins are led by new captain Ethan Price – who has previous U SPORTS experience at Brock – veteran Riley Brandt, who led the nation in scoring during the 2017-18 season for Royal Military College, and former Red Deer College star Chase Thudium.

"Pricer, one thing about him is he shows up in every situation; he's going to work. To have that type of player as your leader, especially for this group, serves us really well," said Ringrose of his captain, who will front a leadership group that also includes assistants Cam Reagan, Andrew Kartusch and Kole Gable, who were all with the Griffins during their successful ACAC tenure.

Kole Gable, seen in action against Alberta during a preseason game earlier this month, will be one of three assistant captains on the Griffins this season (Joel Kingston photo).

"We were able to do something pretty special at the ACAC level and build a program and a culture that we were really proud of," Ringrose continued. "Certainly when you make a step like we have from ACAC to U SPORTS, things are going to change. It's important to embrace that change, but as much as you're going to have change, if you're going to be successful there are things that need to stay the same. Having that continuity in our leadership group from a successful ACAC program and understand that we are going to have to do some things differently as we make the transition, I think this group is very mature and ready to handle that challenge. I'm excited to see what they do as a leadership group."

In goal, the battle for the crease minutes will continue into the regular season as Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick Ty Taylor – formerly with the University of New Hampshire in the NCAA – is still getting back up to speed from an injury, while James Porter Jr. and Thomas Davis both impressed in preseason action.

"Porter's been very good and has been able to put up two wins already, but Thomas Davis was very good through the preseason as well," said Ringrose. "Ty Taylor is just getting his feet wet after rehabbing an injury. We're going to need those guys to be very good. By all accounts they're trending in that direction."

Defensively, the squad also has a nice mix of experience and youth with Reagan, Kartusch, former NAIT Ooks stars Curtis Roach and Jordan Davies, and Sean Comrie, who finished his junior career with the Kelowna Rockets after logging 18 games of NCAA Div. 1 experience with the University of Denver.

Comrie is one of three U SPORTS rookies on the Griffins to particularly keep an eye on.

"Sean's a very, very good player. He's an elite talent," said Ringrose. "As he grows into this role at MacEwan, I think the sky's the limit for him. He's been very good right off the hop and definitely as advertised.

"I could say the same about David Kope, who's come in and has been able to provide some offence," he added. "Tyler Smithies has come in and been really solid for us on our penalty kill and is prepared to embrace that role. He's responsible defensively and has already earned the trust of his coaches in every zone.

"Those three guys as first years have really stepped up, but collectively as a group, we knew we were going to be young and we were going to need contributions up and down the lineup in their first year all the way through their fifth year. And our first-year guys have embraced that and they're contributing in meaningful ways."

The Griffins' home opener is set for Oct. 22 (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

Former Edmonton Oil Kings and Kelowna Rockets product David Kope will be one of the key rookies to watch on the Griffins this season (Joel Kingston photo).