Griffins' impressive fight comes up short in Game 2 after late goal sends Cougars to next round

Ashton Abel makes one of his 31 saves on Saturday (Adrian Shellard photo).
Ashton Abel makes one of his 31 saves on Saturday (Adrian Shellard photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

CALGARY – A late goal being the only difference between the Griffins men's hockey team and the third-ranked team in the country on Saturday night, it was with a mixture of pride and disappointment that MacEwan head coach Zack Dailey gave his post-game interview.

The Griffins lost 6-4 to the Mount Royal University Cougars and were swept 2-0 in their first Canada West quarter-final series in program history.

But the fight that they had – the grit and gumption that came through when their backs were up against the wall – will stick with Dailey for a long time.

"So proud of this group," he said. "It's something I shouldn't be surprised about. There have been several times this season where I've challenged them, I've asked them to be better and respond and they've done that. So, super proud of this team. 

"We just played a really good hockey team and were even with them right until the end there. At times we gave up leads, we were trailing, we found ways to get back into it, so very proud of this group."

The Griffins twice held the lead in the contest, but a rebound goal by MRU's Robbie Fromm-Delorme with 4:02 remaining broke a 4-4 tie and Jaden Senkoe hit a late empty net to ice it.

With the result, the Cougars advance to the Canada West semifinals against their #YYC rival the Calgary Dinos next weekend.

The Griffins, unfortunately, see their season come to an end, which is a tough moment even if they were that close.

"I think we're extremely disappointed," said Dailey. "To be honest, there's not a lot of belief in our group from the outside, but in our dressing room, we have so much belief in our group and what we're capable of. 

"For us, this is a huge loss because we felt we could win this series, not just a game, but the series. Obviously, no disrespect to Mount Royal. They're a very good hockey team, but we're definitely a confident group."

It didn't really matter that the 9-17-2 Griffins finished 23 points behind the 21-6-1 Cougars during the regular season. On Saturday, it was anybody's game.

The contest had everything – big hits, goals, a raucous crowd, and tons of drama.

MRU's Kyle Walker opened the scoring just 1:42 into the contest as the Cougars started hot a night after winning Game 1 by a 4-1 count.

Sam Simard's opening tally for MacEwan was called a goal after the fact when the officials conferred following a whistle (Adrian Shellard photo).

But Sam Simard evened the score midway through the first period on a play that initially continued without the officials indicating a goal. However, a review after the next whistle revealed Simard's scoring attempt crossed the line out of a scramble.

Kadyn Chabot then scored from behind the goal line five minutes later to give MacEwan its first lead of the series.

Senkoe, however, knotted the game 2-2 before the first was out as a wild game developed – exciting for the fans, but not so much for the coaches.

"Yeah, I'm not sure excitement is the right word for it," said Dailey. "Lots of stress. I'm hoping this experience will pay off next time we're in a tight game here and we're not holding our stick so tight at the end. Definitely proud. I wouldn't say exciting is the right word."

Vincent Scott restored MacEwan's lead 4:05 into the second period when he wheeled out from behind the net and sent a back-hander past Riley Sims.

Again, though, the Cougars answered quickly with Remy Aquilon beating Ashton Abel. Robbie Holmes put MRU up 4-3 on a powerplay goal at 13:23 of the second, but Kole Gable answered right back with the man advantage to knot the score 4-4.

But the third period was won by MRU on the scoreboard and the Griffins are going home, disappointed, but definitely richer for the playoff experience, which will hopefully pay off in the future for the program.

"Obviously, at this point, that's hard to see," said Dailey. "All we can see now is a loss and disappointment, but I do think it's valuable experience for our program and our team to be in the playoffs – to not only be there but be in tight games right to the end where they're intense and emotions are high. 

"I think that next year that will just help us be calm in those situations. We've been here, we know what it's like. It's not scary. I'm hoping this will be great experience for our program."

Ben Bygrove carries the puck between a trio of MRU players (Adrian Shellard photo).

Graduating senior Abel made 31 saves, Gable finished with a goal, Jordan Taupert two assists, and Thomas Davis backed up in the final game of their Griffins careers.

Dailey was emotional talking about them afterward.

"These guys have been with me for five years and they went through the change where I went from assistant coach to head coach, and that's a really tough change as the boundaries between players are little bit different," he said. "Those guys respected absolutely everything I asked of them. They didn't treat me any differently. They treated me as a head coach. They treated me very well and I'll forever be thankful of them. They set the tone for the young guys. I'm super proud of the guys. 

"I'm super proud to be their coach and they're all guys I know are going to be successful moving on because of how they treat people, their work ethic and how they handle adversity. We're going to see some pretty cool things out of all these guys in the future."