Griffins battle Pandas tooth and nail before falling 2-1 on emotional Senior Night

Mackenzie Dachuk opens the scoring on the Griffins' second shot of the game in the first period on Friday night, but the Pandas rallied back to win 2-1 (Joel Kingston photo).
Mackenzie Dachuk opens the scoring on the Griffins' second shot of the game in the first period on Friday night, but the Pandas rallied back to win 2-1 (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Emotions ran high with tears flowing on a drama-filled night at the Downtown Community Arena.

And that was just the pre-game ceremony.

Four graduating seniors on the MacEwan women's hockey team were sent off with an emotional farewell with their families prior to puck drop against cross-town rival Alberta on Friday.

After celebrating Chantal Ricker, Kyrelle Skoye, Natalie Bender and Beth Taylor, the Griffins played hard for them, but ultimately fell short in a 2-1 loss that puts their Canada West playoff hopes on life support.

MacEwan drops to 6-11-0-0, remaining four points behind Regina for the final post-season spot now with just one game in hand. With the win, Alberta improves to 10-5-1-1.

As disappointing as the result was, though, the night was equally uplifting given that the Griffins' identity of hard work all over the ice was growing before their fans' very eyes. They frustrated the Pandas at every turn, clogging up lanes, blocking shots and forcing them to work for every inch.

"I'm proud of our group," said head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "I think we got better as the game went on and I thought we pushed hard at the end.

"We had some good looks and couldn't quite bury it, but there's lot to walk away with from this game positively to bring into tomorrow."

The teams will meet again on Saturday (7 p.m., Clare Drake, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

Griffins' graduating seniors Beth Taylor (left), Chantal Ricker (third from left), Kyrelle Skoye (third from right) and Natalie Bender (right) lined up for a special pre-game ceremony honouring their contributions to the program (Joel Kingston photo).

Mackenzie Dachuk opened the scoring for the Griffins 11:42 into the first period on just MacEwan's second shot of the game. Jayme Doyle won a battle for the puck on the wall and chipped it to Dachuk, who went in alone and beat Alberta's Halle Oswald blocker side.

Alberta tied the contest before the first period was done, though, as Natalie Kieser, parked perfectly in the slot, buried Payton Laumbach's one-time pass from behind the net on a 5-on-3 powerplay.

Madison Willan netted the winner at 14:57 of the second period, pouncing on a rebound off Laumbach's shot and squeaking it past a sprawled Bender from a sharp angle.

MacEwan had a few good chances to tie it in the third period – including Hailey Maurice finding herself in alone down low with five minutes left – but they were unable to beat Oswald again.

She finished with 16 saves for the visitors, while Bender stopped 26 in her final home game as a Griffin.

"It's kind of been an emotional day and week leading up to this," said Bender, who will leave with the program's career shutout record (12). "I'm really glad my family and some of my close friends can be here.

"You've got to keep it together on the ice and in the game, but I think we used that energy to playing good and enjoying our last home game at the rink. It's been awesome."

And that send-off means more than the wins and losses.

"They're a great group and have had a massive impact," said McAlpine of the four seniors. "You heard the messages (announced) pre-game. They're a group that's really easy to rally around and pull on that emotion and we did just that.

"I was proud of the game that they had with that emotion. When you set it up with that kind of emotion before sometimes it's tough to get past it and they did a good job of doing what they needed to do."