Playing with poise on the top pairing, rookie Chambers leads Griffins into series vs. Pandas

Aryn Chambers has five points in 10 games so far for the Griffins, while logging important minutes on MacEwan's top defensive pairing - impressive stuff for a rookie (Joel Kingston photo).
Aryn Chambers has five points in 10 games so far for the Griffins, while logging important minutes on MacEwan's top defensive pairing - impressive stuff for a rookie (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Her status now as a top-pairing defenceman on the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team wasn't something Aryn Chambers would ever have dreamed of happening in the first few months of her Canada West career.

But there she is – a rookie – lining up alongside fifth-year captain Kyrelle Skoye for all the tough minutes required of a team's go-to defensive pairing.

"I definitely wasn't expecting it, but it's been pretty cool, especially having Kyrelle Skoye as my D partner," said Chambers. "I've embraced it … just (the process of) starting somewhere and building every day."

The Blackfalds, Alta. product by way of the Red Deer female AAA programs has produced a goal and five points in 10 games, which makes her the second-leading scorer on the Griffins. She's also second on the team in shots with 26 and has done a good portion of her offensive work on the powerplay (a goal and an assist).

"Aryn is a dynamic defenceman, who plays with confidence well beyond her years in this league," said MacEwan head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "She has elite edge work, making her an extremely evasive skater and plays with a raw competitive edge.

"She has stepped into a critical role in Year 1, playing consistently as a 1-2 D, and will be an important pillar as our team progresses through Canada West."

Chambers will lead the Griffins into their first U SPORTS regular season series against cross-town rival Alberta on Friday (7 p.m., Clare Drake) and Saturday (5 p.m., Downtown Community Arena, both Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

It's a massive weekend for the Griffins (5-5-0-0), who are just a point behind the Pandas (5-4-0-1) for fifth place in the standings as they continue to vie for a playoff spot in their first year in Canada West. 

Rylee Gluska battles for a loose puck in an exhibition game against the Pandas back in September. The Edmonton rivals will meet for the first time in regular season play this weekend (Don Voaklander photo).

McAlpine, a former CIS player of the year as a player for the Pandas, whom she led to five national championships between 2002-07, will go against her alma mater for the first time in a regular season game.

"Tons of emotion heading into this weekend, both personally and as a team," she said. "We are up against our soon-to-become hometown rivals, who are a perennial powerhouse across U SPORTS. We are also one point away from catching them, so it is a weekend that once again has a big impact for long-term standings.

"We have everything to prove against a storied U of A team and nothing to lose. I am confident our group will compete hard and leave everything they have on the ice heading into the break."

Chambers' efforts will be key to that task. She's one of just a few Griffins players with experience playing for a provincial team, suiting up for Team Alberta at the 2019 U18 national championship.

"It was a cool experience," she said of the tournament held in Winkler, Man. "Coming out, the first game we played against Team Sask. I was just shell-shocked. You look up in the stands and it was packed. It was so loud. But it was probably one of the coolest experiences of my life. Getting to wear the Alberta jersey was pretty cool."

Now she's wearing another special jersey as a member of the Griffins, thriving in a winning culture that the veterans on the team have curated since the team won three ACAC Championships in a row prior to entering Canada West.

"I honestly know my skill, but as I've come here, I feel like I enjoy the game again," said Chambers of the Griffins' team atmosphere that has stoked her love of hockey after it was tested during her midget tenure in Red Deer.

"We're always pushed. Lindsay's a great coach, probably one of the best I've ever had. I've never had a female coach, so it's been the best thing ever."

With Skoye – the Griffins' leader and best defenceman – as her partner, that's pushed Chambers to get better every day, too.

"Kyrelle has helped me a lot with my confidence," she said. "Coming in and playing with the fifth-year captain, she's obviously a very skilled player, so I feel I need to keep up with her in a way because if not I'm leaving her out to dry.

"We both have the same game style. We're both offensive but know our defence is very important, too. I feel like we bring confidence to the blueline."

Aryn Chambers noted she's enjoying hockey again after joining the strong team culture on the Griffins (Jefferson Hagen photo).

Lately, the Griffins have been as stingy as any team in U SPORTS. They're coming off back-to-back shutouts of the Trinity Western Spartans last weekend and haven't allowed a goal against in the last 128 minutes and 50 seconds – a span that goes all the way back to a 4-3 win over Calgary on Nov. 6.

"We are a very defensive team, to begin with," said Chambers of their recent success. "That's where we start. We start with defence and then we go forward. Looking at that, it's so ingrained in our heads that it's just worked out."

That's how they upset UBC 3-2 back on Oct. 30.

"I think a lot of teams do take us for granted," said Chambers. "But I think we've shocked a whole bunch of teams this year. Beating UBC, even we were a little bit like 'did that really just happen?'

"I think if we stick to our game plan, we could have a really successful year and make something out of it."

That's the short term goal of the 2021-22 season, but as MacEwan gains seasoning at the Canada West level, Chambers and her fellow group of first-years form the core group that will aim to take the Griffins to the top of the table.

The torch will be passed next season and the great team culture carried forward.

"Watching Kyrelle and (fifth-year forward) Chantal Ricker, we're definitely watching what we can do when they're gone," said Chambers. "I always think about that, 'man, what are we going to do when Kyrelle's gone? I don't even want to know.

"It's definitely huge to look up to and carrying on that legacy's going to be huge."