Rookie Simon finding early success in Canada West career with tenacious puck-hunting style

Joie Simon skates against UBC during an Oct. 30 game in which she scored the game-winner (Joel Kingston photo).
Joie Simon skates against UBC during an Oct. 30 game in which she scored the game-winner (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – One play encapsulates everything Joie Simon has meant to the MacEwan Griffins in 2021-22.

With just under four minutes left in an Oct. 30 game against UBC, the Griffins were tasked with killing off a double minor.

Trailing 2-1 at the time, the Thunderbirds opted for an extra attacker to make it a 6-on-4.

Daunting, to say the least, for MacEwan's penalty killers.

Not long into it, though, Simon blocked a shot and sent the clearing attempt 200 feet into the yawning cage.

"Honestly, it was all a blur," she said. "I just blocked the shot and knew I just needed to get it down the ice. It went in and I was like, 'oh, it went in the net.' I wasn't aiming for the net."

So, not exactly the prettiest goal the Flin Flon, Man. native has ever scored.

But, at the same time, it might be the most important … at least at the Canada West level so far.

UBC scored later on the same powerplay, but failed to get the equalizer, meaning Simon's tally stood up as the game-winner in a massive 3-2 upset result for an upstart Griffins team against one of the best teams in U SPORTS.

"She ended up blocking a shot in a 6-on-4 situation late in the game against a phenomenal top-ranked UBC team and then followed it up with an empty-net goal and a win against them," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "I think that is a perfect capture of the player that Joie's grown into for us over the course of this year."

Simon will lead the Griffins into their first action of the second semester this weekend when they host Manitoba on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (3 p.m., both Downtown Community Arena, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

Griffins players celebrate after upsetting UBC 3-2 on Oct. 30 at the Downtown Community Arena (Joel Kingston photo).

As a rookie, she hardly expected as big a role as she's had as one of the team's top defensive forwards and shot blockers.

"I was ready to sit on those benches and cheer the team on," said Simon of her initial thought entering her first U SPORTS season. "I was not thinking I would be playing every game and I think I really showed that I can play."

McAlpine knew she was getting a gritty, tenacious forward, but didn't initially have Simon penciled into such a key role.

"The defensive side of her game has come so far from the beginning of the season," she said. "She's a go-to shutdown player for us now, whether it's on the PK or her regular line. She's become a deadly shot blocker for us, she's a tenacious checker. She's just a player who hounds the puck continuously."

Simon credits years in boys hockey – including competing in body contact play in bantam – for her gritty style.

"Guys hockey was always rough, so you had to be rough and go for the puck," she explained. "So, it just taught me to always go for the puck."

The huge thing for the Griffins is she's just scratching the surface of her potential. McAlpine believes there is an offensive side to her game that will eventually come out as Simon gets more accustomed to the level.

"I think there is, absolutely, untapped offence to come from Joie,"  she said. "Her skating skill is elite. Her first three strides I would put up against anybody in Canada West. Off the line, she is exceptionally explosive."

Joie Simon hunts for the puck against MRU's Abbey Borbandy during a game earlier this season (Joel Kingston photo).

The Griffins have had several top players come from Manitoba in recent seasons – a bit of a pipeline, if you will. Specifically, Simon is the fourth Yellowhead Chiefs product to play for McAlpine, following in the footsteps of former Griffins Carley Jewell and Jessi Rampton, and current teammate Rylee Gluska.

The latter, Simon's teammate in her first Midget AAA season for the Shoal Lake, Man. team, actually was a big reason she chose to come to MacEwan.

"I loved playing with Rylee, so I was talking with her and she said 'it's such a good organization, you'll love it,' " said Simon. "They'll welcome you well. So, it just really helped me make my decision."

Much like she was first welcomed to the Chiefs, moving seven hours away from her home in Flin Flon at age 15.

"They brought me into their community and it was cool to see what they do for people from outside their community," she said.

"I definitely grew up quickly. Moving away from home was very tough, but the coach and my teammates were just there for me. They knew what I was going through."

This weekend, she will go against her former Chiefs teammate Jena Barscello, who is a rookie on the Bisons.

"She was my linemate, so it's going to be interesting," said Simon.

The Bisons (8-4-0) are six points ahead of the Griffins (5-7-0) in the standings. As MacEwan enters the second half of the campaign, they sit in the final playoff spot – turning plenty of heads around the conference.

"Credit to our group, they've embraced this first season in Canada West with open arms and I think they're doing exceptional," said McAlpine. "Our goal is to compete in every game and they've done just that.

"Manitoba's an excellent team in this league. They've got some of the top stats defensively, some of the top stats offensively and that's why they're sitting in that third-place position and knocking on the doors of 1 and 2.

"No different plan for our weekend against Manitoba. We know that playoff spot is looming. It's never really the goal, but I think it would be a great byproduct of our process. We're looking to compete against a solid team."