Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Rolling and getting their game to the level it needed to be at to compete at the Canada West level, the brakes were abruptly applied for the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team last week.
Multiple positive cases of COVID-19 forced the cancellation of all team activities and the postponement of the Griffins' inaugural Canada West season home opener, which was slated for last Friday against Calgary.
After closely following all protocols as directed by Alberta Health Services and the Chief Medical Officer of Health, as well as COVID-19 regulations set by MacEwan University and Canada West, the Griffins are back at practice this week in preparation for a weekend road trip to Vancouver to take on UBC (Friday, 8 p.m. MT and Saturday, 4 p.m. MT, both Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
The challenge is trying to rediscover the form that earned them a 2-0-0 start after opening the season Oct. 15-16 with 4-3 and 5-2 wins over Regina.
"Without a doubt, we're facing some unique challenges this week," said head coach Mike Ringrose. "We've got guys that were playing at a high level and immediately afterwards had to take a week off.
"This week, as the week has gone on, we've started to see a lot of that jump come back, so we're hoping to be ready for the weekend."
All great teams overcome adversity in some form or another and it's fair to say this is one of those moments for the Griffins, who will need to test their depth this weekend.
"With the COVID (protocols), we've got quite a few guys out of the lineup, so we have some fresh faces who are going to get an opportunity to play in maybe a larger role than they have so far this year," said Ringrose. "We're hopeful some of that excitement and enthusiasm carries over and helps push our game this weekend."
UBC (4-0-0) and MacEwan (2-0-0) are two of just three teams still undefeated in the Canada West ranks (1-0-2 Saskatchewan is the other), so something will have to give in their matchup this weekend.
"They're a very good team," said Ringrose of the Thunderbirds, who have swept Trinity Western and Manitoba on back-to-back weekends so far. "They play with a lot of pace. They skate exceptionally well, they're quick, they're always in your face with pressure coming at you right away. We're going to need to be solid with our support in every situation and we're going to have to match that pace and work ethic."
And behind that is UBC goaltender Rylan Toth, who is currently rocking a conference-leading 1.33 goals against average and .948 save percentage.
"We're going to have to get pucks to the net," said Ringrose. "They've got arguably the best goaltender in the league, so we're going to need to get bodies in front of him and get pucks there.
"Definitely, they're rolling and credit to them for the great start," he added. "We're excited for the challenge."