Strong stretch drive play has Griffins primed to meet MRU in first Canada West playoff series

Carter Chorney unleashes a slapshot in MacEwan's 3-2 win over Mount Royal back in November. The Griffins head into a best-of-three quarter-final series against the Cougars in Calgary this weekend (Jefferson Hagen photo).
Carter Chorney unleashes a slapshot in MacEwan's 3-2 win over Mount Royal back in November. The Griffins head into a best-of-three quarter-final series against the Cougars in Calgary this weekend (Jefferson Hagen photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Ever since clinching the first Canada West playoff spot in program history 12 days ago, anticipation has been building for the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team.

Locked into the sixth seed, they followed along Saturday as the dust finally cleared on the convoluted standings picture and the Mount Royal University Cougars landed in third.

That locks in their weekend best-of-three quarter-final series in Calgary against the third-ranked team in U SPORTS (Friday, Saturday and Sunday – if necessary – 7 p.m., Flames Community Arenas, Canada West TV).

"It's very exciting," said captain Kole Gable. "Obviously, we've never been in this situation yet. This week we've been practising at Clareview (Arena) on Olympic ice, just to get used to the bigger rink. It seems pretty real. We're getting fired up and everyone's practising fast. It's exciting times."

Although the Griffins (9-17-2) finished 23 points behind the Cougars (21-6-1) in the standings and will be considered the underdogs, they split the season series against them, winning 3-2 in Edmonton on Nov. 18 before falling 5-1 in Calgary a night later.

They've also beaten the Cougars two other times since they joined Canada West in 2021, so the template is there for success against a nationally-ranked program.

"They're very good offensively – very fast – they compete, and they work extremely hard, so all game you're under pressure," said MacEwan head coach Zack Dailey. "The biggest thing for us is making sure we're moving our feet and we're supporting each other all over the ice."

That's how the Griffins found success down the stretch – taking care of the details, not turning over pucks and going ballistic in the offensive zone when they crushed Manitoba 7-2 on Feb. 2 to clinch.

"I actually really liked some of our offensive decisions and just playmaking in the O-zone," said Dailey, whose team earned seven of a possible eight points in their final four games of the regular season. "That's something that we struggled with as a team. I thought we did a much better job spending time in other team's defensive zones. What that does is A) it wears them down a little bit and B) you're not defending the whole game and you get some momentum. 

"I also like our commitment to the hard things, the blocking shots, finishing checks – so those were things I thought were important to us winning down the stretch and are going to be very important if we want to win in playoffs."

Gable also noted they need to have belief. The Griffins ultimately have nothing to lose and aim to put it all on the line against the Cougars.

"Just playing with confidence is our biggest thing," he said. "Obviously, in this league, everyone's good, can skate and shoot and score, but I find with us on the Griffins, our confidence levels falter sometimes. Coming into the playoffs, we've shown we can play with the good teams. We pushed and beat Regina for a playoff spot and so I just think playing with confidence will be the biggest thing – just knowing we deserve to be here, and anything can happen in the playoffs."

Vincent Scott scored twice, including the game-winner, when the Griffins beat the Cougars at the DCA earlier this season (Jefferson Hagen photo).

MacEwan will look to contain MRU's potent offence, which boasted two of the top-three scorers in Canada West. Connor Bouchard led the conference with 23 goals and 57 points in 26 games, while Clayton Hanus led all defencemen in scoring with 36 points in 26 games.

"Obviously with players like Bouchard and Hanus, and some of their other top guys, they have some very heavy offensive firepower," said Dailey, "So, we need to make sure we're simplifying our game, we're not turning pucks over and we're trying to finish checks and put pressure on those guys.

"Special teams are going to be very important as well," he added. "They have a very dangerous powerplay, so we want to make sure, A) we're limiting their chances and B) we're executing and taking away their strengths."

MacEwan found success in their 3-2 win over MRU earlier this season when rookie Vincent Scott scored twice – including one of his Canada West-leading three short-handed goals – and goaltender Ashton Abel made 26 saves.

"I just think we know we can beat them," said Gable. "It always comes back to confidence with our group. Kind of looking back on the video, we know we can play with these guys, and we can play our game. As long as we go into the weekend knowing we deserve to be there, we should be fine."