Tough break leads to overtime loss to Bisons in game Griffins never trailed in

Mila Verbicky gets a golden chance in tight on Manitoba's Emily Shippam. Verbicky scored MacEwan's opening goal on a bar-down snipe (James Maclennan photo).
Mila Verbicky gets a golden chance in tight on Manitoba's Emily Shippam. Verbicky scored MacEwan's opening goal on a bar-down snipe (James Maclennan photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Dealt as tough a break as you'll see in a hockey game, all the Griffins can do is follow the old mantra 'you can only control what you can control' as they move forward following a heart-breaking 4-3 overtime loss to Manitoba on Friday night.

Joie Simon's shot in overtime appeared to go off the back bar and out, but play was allowed to continue, leading to Manitoba's Kate Gregoire scoring at the other end of the ice moments later – a goal that stood up as the winner.

MacEwan protested after the final whistle, but it was to no avail.

"It's out of our control," said MacEwan head coach Chris Leeming afterward.

He's instead choosing to focus on what they can control, which is how the tying goal went in with 29.3 seconds left as the Bisons, who trailed all game, forced overtime when Jessica Haner tipped Kaitlyn Chatyrbok's point shot in past Brianna Sank.

"We look at our game as a whole," said Leeming. "There were a lot of things we did well, and I think there are some deficiencies we need to clean up. The tying goal with their goalie pulled, we had full possession three times, and we didn't get the puck out. 

"That was an issue we had all game that allowed them to have extended zone time and tire us out. We've got to be better on the walls and winning the blueline battles in our D zone."

The Griffins picked up a point and are now 4-21-2, while Manitoba (10-14-1) clinched a playoff spot with the victory.

MacEwan jumped all over Manitoba in the opening 20 minutes in what might have been their best period of the season, and they enjoyed a 2-0 lead as a result.

Graduating senior Mila Verbicky, playing in her final weekend as a Griffin, scored perhaps the nicest goal of her career to open the scoring 7:01 into the contest when she went bar down over the shoulder of goalie Emily Shippam.

Shaelyn Hopkins then made it 2-0 with 1:51 left in the opening frame, sifting a seeing-eye point shot through traffic and in.

"We've been talking about starting on time and having a good start," said Leeming noting that was the key to winning 1-0 in Regina last Saturday. 

"I think the girls had fun in the first. They were in a good head space, and they competed for each other and had lots of energy. It was a fun period to watch and a fun period to coach, as well."

But the Bisons struck back with two late second period tallies – both by Brenna Nicol, only two-and-a-half minutes apart. On her first, she beat Sank far side off a shot from the left circle. Then, she dusted a defender and buried a rebound past her to knot the score.

MacEwan kept coming, though, and regained the lead midway through the third period on a fortunate bounce as an attempted Manitoba pass went off a skate right to Simon, who knifed it in past Shippam.

That led to the furious final 1:45 where Manitoba enjoyed extended zone time with an extra attacker and Shippam out of the net. Try as they might, the Griffins just couldn't get the puck out of the zone and it cost them.

"I think we had possession there three or four times and we just couldn't get it out," said Leeming. "That's one thing, and they capitalized on it, but I thought there was a lot of other stuff we did well today, too."

So, they'll move on to Saturday when the Griffins will play their final game of the 2023-24 season (3 p.m., Downtown Community Arena, Canada West TV), honouring graduating seniors Makenna Schuttler, Jesse Jack, Sydney Hughson, Verbicky and Sage Sansregret in a pre-game ceremony.

"It's our last game of the year, it's Senior Night and I know the girls are going to be super motivated, knowing the outcome of this game based on what kind of happened," said Leeming. "They're ready to go already. Just leaving that room, I know they're already fired up and ready to play."

Joie Simon celebrates with teammates after scoring MacEwan's third goal in the third period (James Maclennan photo).