Griffins set for one final challenge in challenging inaugural Canada West season with visit to Alberta

Kole Gable and the Griffins will visit the Alberta Golden Bears for their regular season finale on Saturday (Joel Kingston photo).
Kole Gable and the Griffins will visit the Alberta Golden Bears for their regular season finale on Saturday (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – In a challenging season for the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team, they are being challenged to gear up for one last one.

Supposed to be on a break this week after their inaugural Canada West regular season was scheduled to come to an end last weekend, they instead have been grinding through a week of practice in preparation for Saturday's rescheduled finale at cross-town rival Alberta (7 p.m., Clare Drake Arena, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

To make things even more challenging, the contest is meaningless for the Griffins (3-16-0-0), but is a key playoff warmup for the U SPORTS No. 2-ranked Golden Bears (15-3-1-0), who will be focused to finish strong as they gear up for a national title run.

In the grand scheme of things, though, the contest carries value for MacEwan as they build for the future.

"I think it's important to continue to build on what we're trying to do in moving forward into next year," said head coach Mike Ringrose. "Asking guys to dig in and put in a little bit more work now, even when it's unexpected is challenging mentally for sure, but I'm happy with the effort the guys have brought."

There are certainly positives they can bring into the contest, such as the fact they played neck and neck with the Golden Bears for two periods in last Friday's 7-4 loss. Alberta scored three unanswered third-period goals to take it.

"We thought we were right there through 40 minutes," said Ringrose. "Our special teams were better, for the most part. We took strides forward there. Then, generally speaking, the first 10 minutes of the third period, we watched a team that's used to being in that scenario pull away. For us, it's a learning moment about how you need to be ready all the time and you need to be competitive through 60 minutes.

"The effort through 40 was as good as we've had in a long time," he reiterated. "This week, going into a hostile environment against a team that's preparing to play in the playoffs, we get that challenge of trying to take that 40 and turn it into 60."

It will also be the last contest of their university careers for graduating seniors Jordan Davies, Chase Thudium and Brett Magee, as well as the final chance for returning players to make an impression heading into the off-season program.

Never underestimate the motivation of playing for pride.

"I don't think anyone's happy with the season the way it's played out," said Ringrose. "We've faced a fair amount of adversity, in my opinion. This group is a young group and I think we've learned a lot about what needs to happen and how we need to handle that adversity.

"Given the opportunity to do it again, we would do some things differently, but that said, history is history," he added. "We're going to learn from those experiences and we're going to continue to try and push the program forward. The guys that are leaving want to leave the program in a better spot than where they found it. And the young guys, for them it's part of the process."

Every Canada West program needs to grow from the ground up and it's no different for the Griffins men's hockey team after one year in the ranks.

"When we were recruiting, we talked about how it wasn't going to be a switch we flipped overnight and how it was going to be a process," said Ringrose. "A lot of those young guys got the opportunity to step into big roles in their first year and it's not something that typically happens at this level. That came with some bumps along the road, but the growth we saw out of our first-year group was tremendous.

"Continuing to build and push things forward, and finishing off with a great effort would be the goal for the weekend."