Seniors given one last curtain call for Griffins in 2-0 season finale loss to Huskies

Wearing the captain's armband, Jose Cruz plays a ball in midfield on Sunday in the final game of his university career (Chris Piggott photo).
Wearing the captain's armband, Jose Cruz plays a ball in midfield on Sunday in the final game of his university career (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – After giving Andrew (Toba) Adeniji and Erik Halabi a curtain call in the second half of Sunday's regular season finale against Saskatchewan, as they joined fellow graduating seniors Jose Cruz and Seth Johnstone on the field, MacEwan Griffins head coach Adam Loga was lost for words when asked about them afterward.

"Just class … I'm speechless," he said, choking up following a post-game ceremony where the program also feted graduating goalkeeper Ryan Gallagher, who was Johnstone's backup in the game. "They're just class."

The result – a 2-0 victory for the visitors – didn't spoil the send-off to a group of players who've given their all to the program.

"It's always nice to get on the pitch," said Halabi, who played the final 29 minutes of the match. "My past five years have been tough just because of injuries. Any time I get a chance to get on the field, it's nice. Even though we didn't get a win, it's always nice to play on this pitch. That's all I can ask.

"It was hard going through a bunch of injuries," he said of a Griffins career which began in 2014. "I learned a lot through this – life lessons, especially. I was maybe not the player I wanted to be, but I was a mentor to the people coming through. I think was the best thing I contributed to this program."

Adeniji, normally a striker, played the final 45 minutes in a defensive fullback role, but he still created a couple of dangerous runs up the left side.

"It was good just getting fit and being able to share one last ride with the boys," he said.

"This whole season I was playing on the wing at striker, but he asked me to go in at left back because they were really pressing us with their pace. I was like, 'you know what, it's my last game, why not?' I just gave it a go and had a lot of fun with it."

Adeniji also battled injuries throughout a university career which began in 2015 with the Griffins.

"For me, personally, I was injured a lot of times, so I didn't have career I would have liked," he said. "But it was good to be helping off the field, on the field, as much as I could – just getting the rookies together and making sure everyone's focused."

Johnstone finished off a terrific final university campaign with five saves, giving him 63 for the season. His 1.63 goals against average breaks the program's record for a Canada West season, while his .759 save percentage is fourth-best all-time.

Cruz also went out in style with a start in his final game and 64 minutes of action.

"It's very important," said Loga of giving his seniors minutes in their final game. "They've put in their time, they've put in countless hours and effort into the program. It's the least we could do for them."

MacEwan (1-8-5) will miss the playoffs for the sixth-straight season, finishing fifth in the Canada West Prairie Division, while Saskatchewan (7-3-4) places second and will host Pacific #3 Victoria (8-6-1) in a quarter-final match on Oct. 26.

Both results were locked in before Sunday's game began, but the motivation was there for two squads wanting to finish strong.

The Huskies were full marks for the victory after dominating possession in the first half and playing a hungry dog-on-a-bone defensive style that nary allowed the homestanding Griffins to build much of anything throughout the match.

"I was very pleased with our first half offensively," said Huskies head coach Bryce Chapman. "I thought we were getting a little bit of synergy and had a good flow to the game and had a good foot on it.

"These are tough games to go in," he added. "We knew MacEwan was going to be hungry to finish their season off strong. We had already clinched but we definitely wanted to go into playoffs on a good foot and good tempo. We balanced some minutes with guys, but we were happy with everything."

Dorion Zambuchini scored the game-winner for Saskatchewan in the 40th minute, winning a ball out of a scramble at the top of the box and slotting it low right for his first goal of the season in his first start.

Centre-back Zach Edwards also scored his first goal of the season for the Huskies, tapping in a 48th-minute rebound off Nikolas Baikas' sharp-angle blast after picking up the ball out of a corner kick scramble.

"Again, set piece and we missed three chances to clear it, so it was a 2-0 game," said Loga. "We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit again. But all the credit to them. U of S is putting together a pretty good run in the second half. I think they have an opportunity to go pretty deep in the post-season."