EDMONTON – Between the roughhousing, the great saves, the gorgeous goals and the contentious plays on Saturday, a spark was lit in what figures to be a burning cross-town rivalry between the MacEwan Griffins and Alberta Golden Bears in Canada West men's hockey for a long time.
Alberta turned on the jets in the third period to break open a tie game and post a 7-4 victory, but both teams walked away with positives and the fans were given a treat – a gem of a hockey game that had it all.
Although the result officially extends MacEwan's losing streak to 10 in their final regular season home game of their inaugural Canada West season, it didn't feel like the other setbacks have. The upstart Griffins pushed the Bears with a hard-working style that's much closer to the identity they've been trying to create than any game they've played in the second semester.
"That was our best effort in a long, long time," said MacEwan head coach Mike Ringrose. "We rallied a bit in the second and we were right there at the start of the third.
"That's a very good team. There's a reason they're a top-three team in the country. They stayed with it and were able to get the job done, but I've got to give our guys a lot of credit for their effort tonight, their compete and their battle level.
"We talked about playing to our identity and starting to put blocks in place that we can build on moving forward and we laid (some foundation) tonight."
Alberta improves to 15-3-0-1, solidifying their hold on first place in the conference, while MacEwan drops to 3-16-0-0.
"Haven't really processed the emotions of it," said Thudium. "I'm just bummed to not get that win."
Especially since the Griffins held an early lead and were tied 4-4 with their rivals after 40 minutes.
"It's still pretty tough," said Thudium, despite some obvious positives. "You get U of A like that … it hurts to not close it out."
Alberta netted the next two goals, however, to take their own lead as Nolan Volan beat Ty Taylor high blocker side and Josh Prokop scored off a broken play down low, sending it inside the right post.
But the Griffins left the first period tied 2-2 after Cameron Reagan's ower-play point shot was tipped by Zach Webb in front and Thudium picked it out of traffic and sent it over Nick Schneider's shoulder.
"We finally got something going on the powerplay," said Thudium. "They were snapping it around pretty good and I just worked my butt off to stay in front of the net. The puck bounced around and I got lucky enough it bounced onto my stick. I just chipped it over the goalie's shoulder. The powerplay was good tonight."
Chase Thudium pots a power-play goal past Alberta's Nick Schneider on Saturday night (Joel Kingston photo).
For both teams, the PP was a story as MacEwan went 2-for-3 with the man advantage and Alberta clicked at a 3-for-7 rate. It was a constant parade to the penalty box throughout the evening with MacEwan finishing with 34 minutes in penalties to Alberta's 26.
Gary Haden put the Golden Bears up 3-2 with a powerplay marker at 4:59 of the second before the visitors thought they scored again, but it was waved off due to the whistle going before the puck went in.
Alberta did take a 4-2 for real at 11:25, though, when Josh Paterson picked Davies' pocket and chiseled the puck over Taylor's shoulder.
But Webb scored two in a row for MacEwan – both off goalmouth scrambles – to draw the Griffins even at 4-4 after 40 minutes.
Taylor, meanwhile, was doing his part to give MacEwan a chance, foiling Matt Fonteyne's deke attempt on an early third-period breakaway.
Finally, though, the Bears' breakthrough tally was breathtaking. Luc Smith played Gretzky, sending a gorgeous no-look back cross-crease back pass on the tape for Noah Philp to bury. A game-winner with 8:01 left.
Eric Florchuk and Grayson Pawlenchuk tallied two more within 25 seconds of each other late in the third to put the game out of reach.
Taylor finished with 47 saves for the Griffins, while Taz Burman, who came in for Schneider midway through the second period nets the win with eight saves.
"It's something we can build off of," said Ringrose. "We're looking forward to another week of practice and then we get to go into their rink. What an exciting test to finish the year. We're very happy with the effort tonight and we'll build off that moving forward."
The Griffins will close out the season with a Feb. 19 visit to the Clare Drake Arena to face the Bears at 7 p.m. (Canada West TV presented by Co-op).