Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
CALGARY – In what will go down as one the biggest wins in program history, the MacEwan Griffins men's soccer team blanked the Calgary Dinos 1-0 on Saturday to move into a playoff position with one game remaining in the Canada West regular season.
Stefan Gajic scored in the 30th minute and Josh Stayko made four saves for the shutout as the Griffins (3-4-2) moved a point ahead of Saskatchewan (3-5-1) for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division.
The Griffins have never yet made the playoffs since joining Canada West in 2014, so the significance of Saturday's win – which puts them on the doorstep of that elusive goal – isn't lost on them.
"Every win in this league is a big one, especially within our program," said head coach Adam Loga. "More importantly after our mishap of a Sunday – (having the Oct. 17 would-be winning goal against Lethbridge disallowed) – the way the guys have bounced back, been resilient and still kept the belief is the bigger aspect of what's going on.
"We put ourselves in the driver's seat going into the last day, but we've still got to get over that finish line."
MacEwan heads into Sunday's rematch with Calgary (2:15 p.m., Canada West TV presented by Co-op) on the cusp of a spot. A win officially rubber stamps their involvement in the post-season. But even with a loss or tie, the Griffins will make it if cross-town rival Alberta beats Saskatchewan in a match going on at the same time in Saskatoon.
Obviously, the Griffins prefer to take care of business themselves.
"Absolutely," said Loga. "When you control your own destiny, that's the best place to be. It's going to be another tough battle. We have a few more lads out. We've just got to take care of business and sort out our Sunday blues that seem to occur week in and week out."
"Stef has had a great season," said Loga. "He missed the first weekend, unfortunately, but he has four points in seven games. And Ali's just turned an absolute corner. For a rookie 17-year-old to be doing the things he's doing of late, I'm sure, catches some people's eyes."
Calgary outshot MacEwan 11-6 but the shots on goal were even (4-4).
Stayko, returning from an injury suffered part way through Oct. 3's match vs. Saskatchewan, made the saves he needed to make for his second shutout of the season. Unfortunately, he was injured in a collision in the 80th minute and was replaced by Mason Perras, who is likely to draw Sunday's start.
Calgary (4-1-4) was the last remaining unbeaten team in Canada West, but the defeat drops them into a tie for second in the Central Division standings with Alberta (4-1-4). In addition to sorting out who gets the top two seeds and home playoff matches in the opening round next weekend, both of those teams are within striking distance of Mount Royal (5-1-3), who plays at Lethbridge (0-7-2) at the same time as the other two Sunday matches.
So, tomorrow's Canada West soccer table will feature plenty of real-time drama going on at 2:15 p.m.
Adding to that is MacEwan will be trying to get a result without four starters due to injuries/a suspension and with two other key reserves on the shelf.
"It's going to be piecing something together and we'll go out there with some will and work rate and see what we can pull off," said Loga.