EDMONTON – Beating Alberta for the first time in more than 15 years on Friday night, the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team was in tough to repeat the feat less than 24 hours later.
They faced the hungry defending Canada West champions and were unable to match their drive and desire, falling to a 5-2 defeat at the Downtown Community Arena.
"We knew that they were going to want a little bit of revenge from the first night and I just don't think we were ready to play from the start," said interim head coach Zack Dailey.
Alberta dominated the opening 40 minutes, particularly in the second period when they built a 4-0 lead, and hung on with an empty netter to seal the deal after MacEwan closed to within two goals in the dying minutes.
"I think that the third period we at least showed a little bit of pushback, but at that point it's too late," said Dailey. "In this league with a bunch of really good teams, you can't give them two periods and try to show up for the last period and win hockey games, so we're just going to have to get back to work and figure out a way to get consistent efforts and not have these peaks and valleys."
That's the lesson to be learned for a Griffins program that's trying to make the playoffs in their second season in U SPORTS. After all, there will be bigger pressure games to be played than on a Saturday night in October.
"The thing we're trying to get to is having a consistent effort no matter what the circumstances are," said Dailey. "After a big win, after a big loss, we're going to play the same way, we're going to work hard, we're going to chip pucks, be simple and hard to play against.
"It's early in the year with a young team and a lot of good players. We're still learning the way, but as long as we see steady improvement, we'll be OK."
With the result, Alberta improves to 3-0-1 on the young season, while MacEwan is now 2-2-0.
In the big picture, earning a weekend split against perennial powerhouse Alberta is big for MacEwan, but Nic Correale's comments only serve to illustrate how much higher the expectations are for the Griffins this season.
"It's good that we finally got a win against these guys," he acknowledged of Friday's 4-3 overtime triumph at the Clare Drake Arena. "But two splits in two weekends is not what we're looking for. We want to be getting the two wins and moving forward, looking to finish on the Saturday nights, not just play on the Friday nights."
Thomas Davis made 43 saves on 47 shots against Saturday night (Joel Kingston photo).
Alberta doubled MacEwan in shots (48-24) on Saturday and if not for the play of Griffins' backup Thomas Davis, the score could have been worse.
He faced multiple high danger chances, none better than when did the splits to rob Ryan Hughes on a powerplay one-timer early in the second period.
"He was very good tonight," said Dailey. "I think it definitely could have been a little bit different score if Tommy wasn't on his game tonight. That's come to be our expectation. We see what these guys can do in practice, and it translates to games.
"Unfortunately, we couldn't give a better effort in front of him."
Alberta built a 4-0 lead through 40 minutes on the strength of three powerplay tallies – two by Jakin Smallwood and one by Tyler Preziuso – along with a 5-on-5 goal by Bruce MacGregor.
Not only did the Griffins sit in the box for 28 minutes in the contest, they turned the puck over multiple times all over the ice
"I thought that we didn't do a great job supporting each other all over the ice, so guys didn't have many plays and that's why there were a bunch of turnovers," said Dailey. "We were just slow. It didn't look like we wanted it as much as yesterday. Maybe we were a bit drained from the emotional high of the first game.
"But that's a good hockey team over there. I have to give them a lot of credit. They come at you in waves. They're a very fast team."
Griffins players celebrate with Ethan Strang after he scored their second goal of the game late in the third period (Joel Kingston photo).
Kole Gable and Ethan Strang both scored rebound goals on two third period powerplays and MacEwan pulled Davis for the extra attacker with 1:55 left. But they never could get set up properly and Eric Florchuk hit an empty net in the dying seconds.
The Griffins will be on a bye weekend before a home-and-home series with Mount Royal University Oct. 21-22.