Strong defensive effort leads Griffins to 3-1 win over U SPORTS No. 4 Saskatchewan

The Griffins celebrate after Carter Chorney's empty-net goal iced a 3-1 win over the Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday (Joel Kingston photo).
The Griffins celebrate after Carter Chorney's empty-net goal iced a 3-1 win over the Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – If there was a shift that epitomized the dogged defensive effort put forth by the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team in an impressive 3-1 win over the Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday night, it had to be the one Curtis Roach endured on a penalty kill early in the third period. 

His first blocked shot left him hobbling on one leg. 

When he blocked another, he barely got back up. 

Then he iced the puck, thinking they were still a man down, only to be told he had to go back on because it came right after Neithan Salame stepped out of the box.

He limped off the bench and continued an epic shift.

That was the tale of one man. 

The tale of all 20 men on the Griffins roster Friday added up to a masterpiece of hard work, commitment to the details and unmatched determination as they knocked off their fourth U SPORTS contender this season, beating the No. 4 Huskies.

"Our team just battled so hard today," said assistant captain Jordan Taupert. "I am proud of every single guy on that ice. Everyone was blocking shots, sticks were in lanes. We were trying to give them nothing and it worked out for us."

The Griffins have now beaten No. 1 Alberta, No. 4 Saskatchewan, No. 8 Mount Royal University, perennial powerhouse UBC and are 6-5-0 on the season. The Huskies fall to 7-2-1.

"I think inside the dressing room and among the coaches, we have a lot of belief in our group," said interim head coach Zack Dailey. "We know if we play the correct way, we can be competitive with any team. It's not always going to be the result you want, but you're always going to be in a game if you're playing the right way.

"We're super proud of our guys," he added. "We had a really tough week. I kind of challenged them to block that out and just focus on the task at hand and I think they did a really good job of that."

The Griffins only had two practices as a full team after some players (and Dailey) didn't return from a road trip to Trinity Western last weekend until Wednesday, as they dealt with the fallout of a West Jet service breakdown that cancelled hundreds of flights.

To add to their adversity, due to injuries, MacEwan only had five healthy defencemen for Friday's game.

"We were short, we only had five D, so it was a big challenge for our guys, and they stepped up," said Dailey, who dressed 13 forwards. "They were willing to do the little things today – chip pucks out, block shots, take sticks in front, compete in front. That was a really great effort by our defensive core."

The Huskies looked to be on their way to repeating last year's dominance over the Griffins (5-1 and 6-0 wins in the Downtown Community Arena) when they scored just 28 seconds into Friday's game on Connor Hobbs' point blast through traffic. 

Jordan Taupert gets congratulations from his teammates after scoring MacEwan's first of the game late in the opening frame (Joel Kingston photo).

But it was merely a wakeup call for the Griffins, who got on their horse and started creating chances at the other end. Eventually, their hard work paid off as Taupert's cross-crease pass attempt hit a stick and got past Saskatchewan goaltender Jordan Kooy with 1:28 left in the first.

"Oz (Merritt Oszytko) was battling hard in the corner and the puck just seemed to pop out," said Taupert. "I kind of got a lucky bounce. I was trying to go back door and it went off a stick and in the back of the net. I'll take 'em any way I can."

The game stayed tied 1-1 until late in the second period when Marc Pasemko took a pass from Salame, walked into the left circle and sifted a shot through traffic on the powerplay – a goal that would stand up as the winner. Carter Chorney hit an empty net with 7.2 seconds left for his first Canada West goal to ice it.

Brendan Boyle celebrates Marc Pasemko's game-winning goal, shot through the screen he set up in front of the net, in the second period (Joel Kingston photo).

Griffins goalie Ashton Abel shut the door with some good help from a strong defensive effort in front of him and the iron around him as the Huskies hit two crossbars and a post. 

His best save came with 9:45 left in the game when Saskatchewan leading scorer and reigning Canada West second all-star team member Jared Dmytriw busted through the defence and in alone, but Abel made a clutch pad stop.

"Abel was great for us," said Dailey of his workhorse starter, who made 28 saves to pick up his sixth win of the season. "And I think our special teams – powerplay and penalty kill – really stepped up. They have a very, very dangerous powerplay. I think our penalty kill did a good job and then our powerplay got us the winner. They executed and did what we needed. That was a really good job on our special teams and our goalie."

Kooy also stopped 28 for the Huskies, including robbing David Kope and Roach in a Griffins' second period surge.

The teams will meet again on Saturday (3 p.m., DCA, Canada West TV).