Rookie Ayre finding her stride with a scoring streak as Griffins head into series against Pandas

Maria Ayre broke the program record for most goals by a rookie Griffins player a Canada West season when she scored her fourth last Saturday (Joel Kingston photo).
Maria Ayre broke the program record for most goals by a rookie Griffins player a Canada West season when she scored her fourth last Saturday (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – It's no surprise to see rookie Maria Ayre beginning to fill the back of the net for the Griffins women's hockey team.

It's what she was recruited to do when she first committed to MacEwan late in her Grade 11 year.

Like any Canada West rookie, she's had an adjustment period as the goals haven't gone in nearly as fast and furiously as they did when she led NAX's U18 Prep team in scoring last season with 25 points in 30 games.

But last weekend against Regina, she scored in each game, including getting the crucial game-tying goal that sent Saturday's contest to overtime and was later won 3-2 by MacEwan in a shootout.

"There was a little scrum on the wall and the puck popped out," she said of the marker, scored with just 4:38 left in regulation. "I had a little lane to the net and I popped it five hole."

The tally, her fourth of the campaign, broke a program record for the most goals by a rookie in a Canada West season and she has plenty of games left to add to it, including this weekend when Ayre will lead the Griffins (3-13-0) against cross-town rival Alberta (12-2-2).

The teams will meet Friday (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena) and Saturday (7 p.m., Clare Drake Arena, both Canada West TV).


Ayre comes in with five points in 14 games, placing her fifth on the Griffins in scoring.

Maria Ayre is beginning to hit her stride and discover her scoring touch at the Canada West level (Joel Kingston photo).

"For any first year coming in, there's always a learning curve and an adjustment period," said MacEwan head coach Chris Leeming. "We've had a number of conversations with her about leveraging her strengths and finding opportunities to get her shot on net. She's got a good shot. 

"Obviously, she's created offence at the U18 level and she's getting scoring chances with us as well. Our big focus is shot volume. She's a strong player, who can take pucks to the net and wants to put pucks on net as well. 

"We've seen a lot of growth in her game because she comes in every day and just does the work. She brings a lot of energy. She's got a great attitude towards everything, as well."

Ayre remembers her first goal of the season, which came against Saskatchewan on Oct. 6 on a nice give-and-go play with Mila Verbicky.

"It was almost like one of my first shots on net, too," she said of the tally, which came in her second game in the lineup. "I think it was my third shot on goal in the games we'd played. I just caught her short side. It surprised me, but it wasn't too bad."

Born in Richmond, B.C., Ayre moved to Fort St. John when she was in Grade 4 and continued playing boys hockey. But the girls game was beginning to take off in the area and Ayre had the privilege of being a part of the very first Predators squad.

"I was lucky because in my second year of peewee, we did this travel team," said Ayre. "My sisters play for them now. We were the first peewee Preds team and we were really good that year, but we kind of fell off in provincials because we'd never been there before.

"It was just a travel team before, but now they're full time and they're killing it. I'm so happy."

Eventually, she made the Prince George-based Northern Capitals U18AAA team as an underage in her second year of bantam and played there three seasons, although one came without games during the 2020-21 pandemic year, which was only part of her adversity story that year. In the team's second practice, she broke her kneecap and was on the shelf for eight weeks.

"It was really hard because that was the COVID year and we didn't have any games," she said. "You're supposed to develop your skills, but I didn't really get to. After that it was really weird. I fully recovered from it and felt faster because I did have existing pain in my knees. It's almost like when I broke it, it kind of fixed everything."

Her scoring took off after that, too, as Ayre put up 28 points in 32 games in her Grade 11 campaign with the Caps, which led to her recruitment to MacEwan. 

Around the same time, Devon, Alta.-based NAX came calling, which seemed like a perfect fit for her to finish off her minor hockey career.

"I just thought maybe I could be in the area and get used to it, and just get new everything," she said. "So, I decided to go to NAX. I'm really happy that I did because I met some of my best friends."

It also continued to cement her status as a go-to scorer, a role that she's continuing to grow into at MacEwan.

"She comes in and does the work," said Leeming. "She's a strong player and has an exciting future. She's got a lot of upside, in my opinion. We're excited for that."

Added Ayre: "I just want to keep going at it and see where it takes me. Stats can say whatever, but I want our team to be successful. We all need to work on putting pucks in the net. I do feel like I can also do more."

The Griffins will aim to build off their win last Saturday into their series against Alberta. Confidence and consistency are the two biggest things they're looking to exude this weekend.

"I feel like we go into games sometimes with the wrong mindset – we're just trying to lose by as little as we can," said Ayre. "But we've talked about our mindset, just always believing that we can. The belief is what's going to get us the furthest. 

"We aren't bad hockey players. We just need to learn how to work together and have the same goals in mind. You need everybody on the same page."