Special teams struggles, finishing woes hamper Griffins in 5-1 loss to Cougars

Jesse Jack provides some traffic in front of Regina goaltender Natalie Williamson on Friday. The Griffins were only able to beat her once on 32 shots (Rebecca Chelmick photo).
Jesse Jack provides some traffic in front of Regina goaltender Natalie Williamson on Friday. The Griffins were only able to beat her once on 32 shots (Rebecca Chelmick photo).

Jason Hills
For MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON — It's been a tough season for Regina Cougars goaltender Natalie Williamson, but she seems to have the MacEwan Griffins number.

Williamson made 31 saves for her first win of the season as the Griffins fell 5-1 to Regina on Friday night at the Downtown Community Arena.

Kaylee Dyer led Regina with a goal and an assist (her first two points of the season), while Kaitlyn Gilroy, Olivia Leggett, Paige Hubbard and Jadyn Kushnirik also scored for the Cougars.

Maria Ayre scored her third goal of the season to tie the program's single season rookie record and Brianna Sank made 32 saves as the Griffins fell to 2-13-0 this season with their third-straight loss.

Special teams were a huge difference as MacEwan was 0-for-8 on the power play, while Regina was 2-for-5.

"I think we're all disappointed with ourselves that we're not stringing together 60 minutes. We know what we need to do, we just have to commit to it. We know we're a better team, and that's where the disappointment comes from," said Griffins alternate captain Jesse Jack.

"Last weekend we proved we can compete with MRU, and to show up today like this is unacceptable. A lot of disappointment in the room."

Leeming has stressed shot volume all season long, but in the first period it was Regina carrying the majority of the play as they took a 2-0 lead.

Gilroy walked into the slot and snapped a shot over the glove of Sank to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead at the 13:15 mark, and then just 2:31 later, Legget's point shot seeped through all kinds of traffic for her first goal of the season.

Regina outshot MacEwan 16-4 in the opening frame.

Letta Mattheos looks for an opportunity in Regina's zone on Friday (Rebecca Chelmick photo).

The Griffins came out stronger in the second period and started to pepper Williamson with more rubber, but they missed out on some quality scoring opportunities. 

Jennifer Andrash fanned on a shot from the slot that would've cut the lead to 2-1 early in the second, and later in the period Claire Hobbs dangled her way through two different defenders before feeding a cross-crease pass to Jack, but her shot was fanned on.

Two big misses, and before the period was over, the Griffins found themselves down 4-0 after Hubbard scored on a breakaway and Dyer drove to the net and beat Sank with a shot over the blocker with just under five minutes left.

The Griffins were finally able to solve Williamson at the 8:29 mark of the third period as Ayre's shot off the rush deflected off the skate of a Cougars defender and past Williamson.

Despite being down three goals, the MacEwan had a glorious opportunity to get back in the hockey game as Regina got in all kinds of penalty trouble.

Rachel O'Toole took a four-minute double-minor midway through the period, and then just 35 seconds later Makena Kushnirik took a major penalty giving the Griffins a 5-on-3 advantage for 3:25, but they came up empty, not getting many quality scoring chances on Williamson.

"I think when we're in those situations where we know we need a few goals, we try to make the perfect play, or we over-handle the puck a little too much. We're taking shots, but they're up high and we can't get sticks on them," said Jack.

"I almost feel like we're gripping our sticks too much, because we know we need a goal at that moment, and that's a big issue, and sometimes we get in the habit of letting off the gas a little bit on the power play. We can't do that."

To add to MacEwan's special teams woes, Regina added their second power play goal of the night as Kushnirik was left alone to jam home the loose puck in the crease with 2:45 remaining.

The Griffins penalty kill unit has been very strong this year, but over the last couple weeks, it's struggled, giving up seven goals on their last 14 penalties.

"We're making mistakes like not clearing the net front well enough and tonight we kind of hung (Brianna) Sank out to dry a little bit there. She and all of our goalies have done an unreal job for us, and we need to do a better job playing in front of them," said Jack.

"This is a wake-up call. These are big games. The really tough part is we have a lot of great players in our room with a lot of talent and we have to find a way to execute every weekend. That comes down to our practice habits, our preparation and the purpose and intention we put behind everything. Right now, for us to compete in this league, it's not where it needs to be."

MacEwan will look to rebound against Regina when they wrap up their weekend series on Saturday (4 p.m. MT, Downtown Community Arena, Canada West TV).