Griffins lose late lead, fall in a shootout to Manitoba, but still finish with program-best record

Marc Pasemko parks in front of Manitoba goaltender Kolby Thornton on Saturday (Dave Mahussier photo).
Marc Pasemko parks in front of Manitoba goaltender Kolby Thornton on Saturday (Dave Mahussier photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

WINNIPEG, Man. – With less than two minutes left on the clock, the Griffins were up by two goals and about to close the books on the best regular season the program has had since joining Canada West in 2021.

Unfortunately, the Manitoba Bisons – out of the playoffs and playing for pride – scored twice in the final 1:10 with the goalie pulled to force overtime, before winning the contest 4-3 in a shootout.

That adds a little tarnish to the picture a night after the Griffins framed a masterpiece in a 7-2 triumph that clinched the program's first-ever Canada West playoff spot.

"They were pushing all period," said MacEwan head coach Zack Dailey. "We were on our heels in the third period. We missed a couple blocks, which are things that have made us successful in the past. And they found a way into the back of the net. 

"It's a disappointing finish to an otherwise pretty good stretch of games here, but it just shows the importance of doing the little things all of the time if we want to be successful."

After the result, the Griffins finished the 2023-24 regular season with a 9-17-2 record, good for 20 points – the most they've had in a Canada West campaign. They will place sixth and have a bye next weekend to watch who will be their first-round opponent for the No. 3 vs. No. 6 best-of-three series Feb. 16-18.

"We did a lot of good things (this season), it's just disappointing that this is the way it ends," said Dailey. "We'll definitely take time to reflect when we're all said and done. But right now, we're switching our focus to playoffs, getting prepared and making sure we're at our best in two weeks here."

Most likely, the Griffins will be heading to Calgary to face either the Mount Royal Cougars or the Dinos, or to Saskatoon to face the Huskies. But there are still several possibilities for how the standings will shake out over the next week.

On Saturday in Winnipeg, MacEwan opened the scoring at the 7:05 mark of the second period when Kadyn Chabot's point shot was tipped past Manitoba goalie Kolby Thornton by Carter Chorney.

Dylan Thiessen knotted the score 46 seconds into the third period on the powerplay before MacEwan's special teams went to work.

Brendan Boyle skated in untouched while short-handed, roofing it short side to give the Griffins a 2-1 lead before Kole Gable also potted a shortie, going blocker side, for his fourth goal of the weekend.

"Obviously, his career is coming to an end, so he wants to end with a bang," said Dailey of Gable, who had a hat trick on Friday. "He definitely led the way in a lot of categories for us, including goal scoring. I'm happy to see that, but he's a guy who plays a good 200-foot game, plays defence, finishing checks, blocks shots and also adds offence. So, I'm happy to see him get rewarded."

Gable's tally gave the Griffins seven short-handed goals on the campaign, which is tied with Alberta and Saskatchewan for the most in Canada West.

With Thornton out of the net, Riley Zimmerman pulled the Bisons within one at 1:10 and Colton Veloso tied it with 18 seconds left.

After no scoring in overtime, the game went to a shootout where Chabot and Jordan Taupert were stopped, while MacEwan goaltender Thomas Davis stopped Thiessen but allowed one against Chase Hartje. So, the game was on Ethan Strang's stick, but he tried a deke and lost the handle before his secondary shot attempt was stopped.

Thornton finished with 37 saves for Manitoba, while Davis stopped 34 for MacEwan.

"I thought that defensively we looked a little bit scrambly," said Dailey. "I thought when we had the puck and were in the O-zone, we made good decisions. I thought our breakouts were pretty darn good. 

"But the little details of blocking shots and finishing checks, those were the things that were missing today. And those are things we need to put back in our game if we want to be successful in playoffs."

ICE CHIPS: Ethan Strang finished the season with 12 goals, 15 assists and 27 points in 28 games, which breaks the program record in all three categories for the most by a Griffin in a Canada West season. "It was incredible," said Dailey. "He was someone we depended on all the time to win games and he did a very good job of providing offence. Impressive stuff and he definitely took a big jump from last season. He's definitely established himself as a dangerous offensive player in this league." … Kadyn Chabot finished with 11 goals and 18 points to break the program record for the most in both categories by a Griffins rookie in a Canada West season … Chabot also set a new standard for the most shots by a Griffins player (and rookie) in a CW season with 79 and most powerplay goals (5) … Samuel Simard set a new record for the best shooting percentage by a rookie (17.9%) … Vincent Scott, who currently leads Canada West with three short-handed goals also set the new program record with that total … Loeden Schaufler broke the record for the most powerplay assists in a CW season by a Griffin with eight … Marc Pasemko matched Kobe Mohr's program record for the best plus/minus, finishing even … Goaltender Ashton Abel finished with a 3.63 GAA and .900 save percentage – both new program standards for the best by a Griffin in Canada West – and broke the shutouts mark with two this season.