EDMONTON – Thanks to goaltender Ty Taylor, for 58 minutes the MacEwan Griffins were in a game in their first Canada West regular season match against Alberta.
Trailing only 2-0 against the perennial national contender as Taylor's save count climbed above 40, the Griffins were a post away from closing to within one with just under three minutes left.
Then the wheels fell spectacularly off.
Keyed by an empty netter with 1:43 remaining, the Golden Bears scored twice more on a deflated MacEwan defence to net a 5-0 victory at the Downtown Community Arena.
"Ty was great," said MacEwan head coach Michael Ringrose of his netminder who made 44 saves, many off high-danger chances.
"The last two minutes were unacceptable. As a group, we need to continue to play through 60 minutes. The first 58 minutes aside, if we just talk about those last two, I was disappointed in our group and our effort. We addressed it and it won't happen again."
With the result, the Griffins fall to 3-8-0-0 and further back of the final playoff spot in Canada West, while the Golden Bears improve to 8-2-1-0, closing to within two points of idle UBC for first place.
Jared Freadrich led the way for Alberta with two goals and an assist, while Clayton Kirichenko had three helpers. Goaltender Taz Burman made 21 saves for his first shutout of the campaign.
The result wasn't without some positives for the Griffins, who played an even first period with the Bears, looking like the better team at times.
"We hit a couple posts and had some opportunities," said Ringrose, most notably of a late chance by Hunter Donohoe that rang off the iron and might have given the finish a different flavor if it went in. "It didn't go for us tonight.
"That's a very good team and that group they have on the back is an experienced group that plays hard, and they're difficult to generate offence against. I liked a lot of our game in the first and third; I thought we sagged in the second. But we'll regroup and get ready to go for tomorrow."
Jordan Davies shoots under pressure from Alberta defenceman Wyatt McLeod on Friday (Eduardo Perez photo).
Another positive was Taylor – a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick – who was so in the zone that he might not have ever been scored on if the Golden Bears didn't get their hands dirty.
Freadrich opened the scoring 8:17 into the second period on Alberta's 26th shot attempt of the game when a rebound off the end boards landed on his stick and he put it past Taylor from a sharp angle. For MacEwan to be down only 1-0 after spending much of the middle frame in their own end was a win.
"I thought in the second period, in particular, we turned a lot of pucks over," said Ringrose. "That team's so good in transition that when you turn pucks over, you just end up playing in your end for an extended period of time. Credit to Ty Taylor for standing tall when we needed him there, especially in the middle frame.
"As a group, we have to understand how to manage pucks, especially against a team like that who are going to kill you if you don't."
Freadrich scored again to make it 2-0 7:07 into the third when he charged the net and blasted home a rebound off Grayson Pawlenchuk's point shot that Taylor kicked out with the pad.
After coming close on a couple of late scrambles, including Ryley Appelt being denied on the doorstep by Burman, the Griffins pulled Taylor for all of about 12 seconds before a turnover quickly botched their extra-man attempt and Daneel Lategan went in alone for a tap in.
The wind out of their sails, the Griffins spent the rest of the game in their own zone and, amid some sloppy defensive coverage, gave up two one-timer goals – to Dilan Savenkov and Josh Prokop – that Taylor didn't have a chance on.
The teams will meet again on Saturday at the Clare Drake Arena (7 p.m., Canada West TV presented by Co-op).