Griffins lean on strong effort in tight 1-0 loss to cross-town rival Alberta

Griffins forward Allee Isley looks to set up a screen in front of Alberta netminder Halle Oswald on Friday night (Derek Harback photo).
Griffins forward Allee Isley looks to set up a screen in front of Alberta netminder Halle Oswald on Friday night (Derek Harback photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – As head coach Chris Leeming often preaches about the process being more important than the result, Friday's 1-0 loss for the Griffins women's hockey team against cross-town rival Alberta felt a lot more about progress than sadness.

Despite the result, MacEwan played one of its best overall games of the season and were unlucky not to find the equalizer with some strong forechecking in the latter half of the contest at the Downtown Community Arena.

"I think consistency has been our big thing we've struggled with all year, and I think today we were really proud of the effort we put in," said Griffins captain Sydney Hughson. "We played them early on this year and I knew it would be a whole different game than when we played them. We've developed a lot; they've changed a lot. 

"We had a really good mindset going in that we just wanted to take it shift by shift and I think we really dialled into the small habits that we could to get under their skin and make them work for it."

With the result, Alberta improves to 13-2-2 and moves into second in Canada West ahead of Mount Royal who lost to Saskatchewan, while MacEwan falls to 3-14-0.

It's the third-straight time this season that the Pandas have shut out the Griffins, two of those by starting netminder Halle Oswald, who was full marks for a 15-save goose-egg – her league-leading fifth of the 2023-24 season.

MacEwan nearly beat her on a scramble late in the second period, but Oswald reached back with her glove as Pandas defenceman Cassidy Maplethorpe slid along the line to help prevent the puck from trickling in off Joie Simon's shot.

The Griffins needed more of that, but the Pandas' stingy defence was tough to crack. Jennifer Andrash hit the post on a sharp-angle shot in the first period, while Jesse Jack got in alone in the third, but they couldn't find a way to bury one.

"We've been focusing a lot on shot volume, so it's just taking the opportunities we can to crash the net," said Hughson. 

"Even when you've got the lane, sometimes you'd got to be selfish and take it to them, and just get in front of the net, get screens on her and we'll get the dirty goals that we always do."

Brianna Sank was very solid at the other end for the Griffins, making 26 saves, none better than at 13:16 of the third period when she stopped a point-blank rebound chance by Jayden Morden. She also got help from a couple posts.

The only one that beat her was a point shot by Hayleigh Craig in the first period that eluded her on the blocker side. But other than that, the team's reigning MVP was sharp.

"That was the Sank we saw all last year," said Leeming. "We've asked our veterans to step up and do more and I thought she responded. She had a great week of practice and it translated into the game today. I'm definitely happy with that performance today."

Leeming definitely wanted to see more from all of his veterans heading into the contest and they delivered by showing a lot of will and drive out there.

"We've asked our veteran players to do more," he said. "They've got to lead by example both on and off the ice. We've talked about elevating their game and we need to know what they can actually give. We definitely saw them close the gap in that sense and are continuing to improve. 

"It makes a big difference for our team. If they can pull from the top and we have our first and second years pushing from the bottom, we're going to make progress."

The teams will meet again on Saturday (7 p.m., Clare Drake Arena, Canada West TV).