Griffins aiming for improvements every day as they kick off stretch drive with series in Saskatchewan

Jennifer Andrash hunts for the puck in front of the UBC goal last weekend (Rebecca Chelmick photo).
Jennifer Andrash hunts for the puck in front of the UBC goal last weekend (Rebecca Chelmick photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The results on the scoreboard might not have shown it, but the Griffins women's hockey team took some steps forward after last weekend's series against first-place UBC.

Although they lost 4-1 and 7-1 to the Thunderbirds, who are very much a national championship contender, there were aspects of MacEwan's play that they can build off of heading down the stretch of the season.

"UBC is the top team in the league – they've got a lot of skill, size and speed," said MacEwan head coach Chris Leeming. "I thought for the better part of the first game we were competing against them. We had a 1-0 lead both games and it could have been 2-0 if (Rian) Santos' shot would have went in instead of post and out (in the first game). 

"I think that gives us a little confidence in order to play against the rest of the league. We're happy, not obviously with the outcome, but how things fell overall for us on the weekend, in terms of execution, compete, secondary efforts, energy on the bench – those types of pieces that we've talked a lot about this year."

That's all in the process department, where if you take care of the little things, eventually the big picture will come into focus, too.

"I think the next three weekends are really important for us," said Leeming, whose squad heads to Saskatchewan this weekend for games on Friday (6 p.m. MT) and Saturday (4 p.m. MT, both Canada West TV). "The girls have elevated their game, practice habits and intensity every day since we've come back from Christmas break. So, it's good to see. 

"I think they're hungry, they're ready to play and they've got the right mindset heading into this weekend."

The Griffins (3-18-1) enter the weekend six points back of Manitoba (6-13-1) and Trinity Western (6-13-1), who are tied for the sixth and final playoff spot, and both have two games in hand on MacEwan. Also in the mix is eighth-place Regina (5-13-2), who also have two games to make up on the Griffins.

In other words, their dream of a post-season berth is still alive, but it's a pretty serious uphill battle. MacEwan will also play at Regina on Jan. 26-27 and host Manitoba Feb. 2-3 to close out the regular season.

So, there's this year to think about, but also about building for the future when they hope to be a Canada West contender.

"There's always that dichotomy of short-term and long-term planning and building whenever you're on a team like this just because of the nature of (university hockey)," said Leeming. "We're losing some key players to graduation this year who have been in some significant roles for us. With that, there's some succession planning. We've got players who are starting to get some looks on special teams and playing some minutes for us down the stretch here. 

"We're excited to see the potential of our first, second and third years who are going to be moving on up as another year passes. I like the prospect for the future, especially if we can continue to build off the momentum we've built as a group. 

"It hasn't been easy, that's for sure," he added. "There's been a lot of challenges and adversity through this, but those bad days are more important than the good ones because that's what separates you in terms of character."