Jason Hills, For MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON — More often than not, the MacEwan Griffins will be considered underdogs this year.
But one thing is certain, they're not going to be a pushover.
One night after taking it on the chin at the hands of the UBC Thunderbirds, the Griffins responded with a massive 3-2 victory Saturday afternoon at the Downtown Community Arena.
This isn't just any win. It's a program-defining win against a perennial national championship contender and three-time Canada West champion.
"I just walked out of that room and told them I've never seen a response with that great of impact after last night. I'm so proud of them," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine.
"Our whole lineup, they battled and worked so hard on all the little details we talked about that we needed to tighten up against a team like UBC to be successful.
"We frustrated them. We played hard on the puck and we were physical and we capitalized on our chances and that was big for us."
Fourth-year goaltender Natalie Bender was outstanding, making 41 saves for her first victory in Canada West conference action, while Aryn Chambers, Jayme Doyle and Joie Simon all scored their first-career Canada-West goals for MacEwan in the win.
Rylind MacKinnon and Ashley McFadden scored third period markers for UBC in the loss.
"She was phenomenal," said McAlpine, in regards to Bender's effort.
"I'm so proud of her. This was her once chance to (potentially) play UBC in her career, and she stood on her head. She made a statement with the way she played today."
MacEwan captain Kyrelle Skoye plays the puck in front of the UBC bench during Saturday's contest at the Downtown Community Arena (Joel Kingston photo).
The entire Griffins squad made a statement in the win. MacEwan learned a lot of tough lessons in their 5-0 loss on Friday, but they passed an incredibly tough test, in just their sixth game in Canada West action with the win over UBC.
"I don't know if they expected us to push back the way we did. The girls battled their asses off in every area of the ice, today," said Bender.
"It was such a great team game. These are the wins you have to soak in and embrace and bring that mentality, attitude and effort every game forward.
"This win is a huge stepping stone. It helps lay a foundation that we have to build off of. There's going to be some people that will see that MacEwan may be an underdog, but you better bring your best to play us."
MacEwan held a 1-0 lead throughout most of the contest on a power play goal from Chambers in the first period.
UBC has plenty of firepower as they boast three of the top 10 scorers in the conference and seven in the top 20. They continued to put all kinds of pressure on Bender and the Griffins, but despite tying the game at 1-1 midway through the third period, the Griffins certainly bent, but didn't break.
Doyle's breakaway goal with 13:12 remaining gave MacEwan a 2-1 lead, and then Simon scored an empty-netter from the far end of the ice, trying to kill off a four-minute penalty in the late stages of the third.
"You can't help but smile and cheer when the girls who have been working their tails off, are able to score some goals and get rewarded," said Bender.
"When Doyle was going down on the breakaway, I knew the puck was going to go in, because she has such a great finish."
Jayme Doyle's breakaway goal with 13:12 left in the game set the table for a furious finish where the Griffins held off the Thunderbirds to win 3-2 (Joel Kingston photo).
"Joie (Simon) is so tenacious and she's the hardest working player on our team," Bender continued. "I couldn't be happier to see her score that empty-netter after the work she put in on the penalty kill."
The victory is certainly the biggest in the program's history and it's one that the Griffins can be proud of.
It was because of their hard work and blue collar effort.
"We know we have to outwork teams to be successful, and today we did that and it showed in the results," said McAlpine.
"These two points will be critical down the road, but more importantly, in the present, it gives us belief in this dressing room that we can compete with anyone in this league."