Abel's 44 save-effort leads Griffins to huge 3-2 OT win over UBC

Ashton Abel stretches out the pad to deny UBC's Jake Lee on the doorstep - one of his 44 saves on Saturday (Bob Frid, UBC Thunderbirds).
Ashton Abel stretches out the pad to deny UBC's Jake Lee on the doorstep - one of his 44 saves on Saturday (Bob Frid, UBC Thunderbirds).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

-With files from UBC Athletics

VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Cardiac Kids of Canada West have done it again.

Bestowed underdog status as a young program in just their second season in the conference, the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team continued its giant-slaying ways on Saturday with a huge 3-2 double-overtime win over perennial powerhouse UBC.

It's the third time this month that they've knocked off a national championship contender, following their first win over defending Canada West champion Alberta in more than 15 years on Oct. 7 and an Oct. 22 victory over U SPORTS top 10 Mount Royal University.

"I just think it's the character we have in our dressing room – just asking them to buy in and play for each other," said Griffins' interim head coach Zack Dailey. "We just want to make it hard on teams. 

"We're coming in, looking to play the right way. We're more focused on the overall complete game, rather than the outcome – what it takes to get there. So that's our focus – playing well and being hard to play against. The wins have been coming for us, which is great. It shows the reward to these guys of what consistent efforts get you."

With the victory, the Griffins pick up their fourth-straight weekend split and move back to .500 at 4-4-0-0 in the Canada West standings. UBC, which beat MacEwan 6-2 on Friday, are now 4-2-1-1.

Saturday's game was deadlocked at 2-2 until Jordan Taupert one-timed a 2-on-1 pass from Neithan Salame past UBC netminder Cole Schwebius 1:10 into the second overtime to end it.

"Sal made a great play on the 3-on-3," noted Dailey of his rookie defenceman. "A guy tried a one-on-one move to try and get the puck through him and he broke it up and got going the other way. And Taupert joined him, so it was a 2-on-1. Sal faked the shot, threw it across and Taups one-timed it in the net. That was the overtime winner."

None of it would have happened, of course, without the play of goaltender Ashton Abel, who was the difference-maker again for the Griffins, making 44 saves.

"We wouldn't be where we are without him," said Dailey. "A couple of these games he's stolen for us, absolutely. Again, we don't want to have to rely on him every game, but it definitely helps when you have someone solid in net who's able to bail you out and get a save when you need it."

Abel made two huge cross-crease saves in the third period, in particular.

"I just think the calmness," noted Dailey of what is so special about the Fort McMurray native, who transferred to MacEwan from Boston University this season. "I've mentioned this before. Up or down, his demeanour never changes. His effort is always there. He's there to make a big save when we need it. I think his presence calms our group overall and just allows us to go and play."

Neithan Salame, left, and the Griffins celebrate one of their three goals on Saturday night. The rookie defenceman had a hand in all of them (Bob Frid photo).

Salame was the other standout for the Griffins as he not only made the defensive play and pass on the OT winner, but he also opened the scoring on the power-play 1:31 into the game. The former Regina Pat fired a low shot from the point that beat Schwebius just 18 seconds into the man advantage.

His play also kick-started MacEwan's second goal in the second period as Salame made a nice pass to Merritt Oszytko, who was stopped on a beautiful back door save by Schwebius, but Brecon Wood back-handed the puck past him in the ensuing scramble.

"Sal's someone coming in, I don't want to say we didn't have a whole bunch of expectations for him because they're all good hockey players coming in, but I don't think we realized what we were getting from him in terms of skill level, effort, smarts," said Dailey of Salame. "He's had a really good start. We're super happy to have him be a part of our program. 

"Not only is he a good player, but he's an awesome kid, too. He definitely represents what it means to be a Griffin."

Jack Wismer and Cyle McNabb scored for the Thunderbirds in a losing effort.

Next up for the Griffins is another road trip back to the west coast to face Trinity Western on Nov. 4-5.

"I think (this win) just (builds) confidence for our group," said Dailey. "We recognize if we do the little things, if we play for each other, win races and we compete, we can compete with anyone."