Griffins hit with expected growing pains in 5-0 loss to top contender UBC

Natalie Bender makes one of her 24 saves against UBC on Friday night. She came into the contest late in the first period with the Griffins trailing 3-0 (Joel Kingston photo).
Natalie Bender makes one of her 24 saves against UBC on Friday night. She came into the contest late in the first period with the Griffins trailing 3-0 (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – They knew there would be growing pains.

In the level up to the Canada West women's hockey ranks, there have been some key moments so far for the MacEwan Griffins – high and low.

Friday night was a painful, but necessary part of the process as they found out what the top level of a contender looks like in a 5-0 loss to the UBC Thunderbirds.

For a good portion of the contest – particularly early on – the Griffins were stuck in a proverbial washing machine as wave after wave of speedy Thunderbirds skaters came at them, hemming them in their own zone.

"In fairness to our group in there, they've never played a team of that level as a whole group," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "We got better as the game went on and I'd say the last five minutes of the game was our best five."

But the early going was rough for the Griffins as they barely got the puck out of their own end, finally registered their first shot – a one-handed offering – 6:32 into the game.

UBC scored on its 10th shot just 5:40 into the proceedings when Shay-Lee McConnell whacked a rebound through Brianna Sank's legs.

Four minutes later it was 2-0 as Chanreet Bassi jumped on a giveaway around the rim and slid another one five-hole.

After Ireland Perrott made it 3-0 with 3:35 left in the opening frame on a one-timer from the slot that snuck through, the Griffins made a goaltending change, bringing Natalie Bender into the fray.

"Honestly, you just get thrown in and you don't have time to think," said the fourth-year goaltender, who went in willingly for her turn in the fire. "You just run on adrenaline.

"You just get into the game and get going and do your best."

Bender stopped 24 of 26 shots the rest of the way, none finer than when she got a pad on a tipped shot late in the second period.

"Full credit to her," said McAlpine. "She's a veteran goalie. She came in relatively early in the first period and ended up playing huge for us. Again, we'll look for more of the same from her tomorrow."

Hannah Koroll's seeing-eye powerplay shot through traffic at 6:20 of the second made it 4-0 UBC and they salted away the win with a fifth goal in the final minute of the game as Grace Elliott's shot from the slot snuck through.

"We haven't played one of the best teams in Canada West yet in regular season and UBC is absolutely one of the best, if not the best, going into this year," said McAlpine. "It's a great challenge to see where this program needs to get to if we want to be a contender."

UBC goaltender Elise Hugens had a relatively easy 11-save shutout, facing maybe two high-danger chances in the entire game. Both of MacEwan's best opportunities to score came in the third period – Mila Verbicky walked out of the corner and ripped a hard high one that Hugens stopped with her shoulder a few minutes before Amanda Murray found herself in alone down low, but missed the net.

"It was a great opportunity from a really hard forecheck," said McAlpine. "It was good to see those little moments for us."

And those are the positives the Griffins can take out of the night as they prepare for a rematch against UBC on Saturday (2 p.m., DCA, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

 "Obviously, the first was a little shocking for us, but I really think we adjusted as the game went on and we pushed and got better," said Bender. "We're hoping to bring that forward tomorrow."