EDMONTON – For the second-straight night, the Griffins scored first on U SPORTS No. 2-ranked Calgary Dinos.
Unfortunately, for a second-straight night, they couldn't hold the lead.
Calgary scored two quick late second-period goals and added two more into empty nets late in the third to grab their program-record 15th win in a row – 4-1 over the Griffins on Saturday night at the Downtown Community Arena.
The victory follows a 7-5 win over MacEwan on Friday in Calgary in a contest that saw the Griffins lead 2-0 and twice rally back to tie before losing in the third period.
Despite the loss on Saturday, the moral victory was evident for the Griffins; they were only a shot away from forcing overtime against the top team in Canada West.
"Obviously, (Ashton) Abel was great again tonight," said Griffins head coach Zack Dailey of his goaltender, who made 36 saves. "He gave us a chance, gave us some confidence and kept it close. I was proud of our effort. I think our effort was great.
"That's the first-place team. The skate, they work, they're very good. So, to be close and in a game, that's building confidence for our group."
With the result, the Dinos improve to 17-3-0, while the Griffins fall to 6-12-0 and are now three points back of the final playoff spot in the conference.
"We'll just take the positives," said Dailey. "I think we did a pretty good job in our D zone. I liked our neutral zone. We still need work in our O zone, in terms of generating offence and we'll work on that this week. But we'll take the small victories. We want to get better every day and continue this push."
Spencer McLean, who has seen limited minutes on the fourth line and/or spent time in the press box for the Griffins this season, chopped home a rebound at 10:51 of the second period to open the scoring for the Griffins.
M��| ��GOAL!— MacEwan Griffins (@MacEwanGriffins) January 8, 2023
Spencer McLean has opened the scoring for @MacEwanHockey 10:51 into the second period, chopping in a rebound for his second goal in as many games. Griffins lead 1-0 over @USPORTS_Hockey No. 2 @UCDinos.@CanadaWest #GriffNation pic.twitter.com/qAjZFC3pD6
"Very proud of him," said Dailey. "He's one of the guys who comes to the rink and works hard every day. He doesn't complain, he doesn't say anything.
"I've challenged him to be a little bit more structured in his play and he's responded well. I'm very happy to see him get rewarded for his hard work with some really big goals for us."
It was the third-year forward's second goal in as many games after also tallying in Calgary.
"Just kind of throwing it on net and I got a couple lucky bounces," he said. "Luckily, they went in. It feels good.
"I just stay with it, keep working hard every day and it feels good that it's finally starting to pay off," he added. "I'm starting to get a couple. Hopefully, I can keep it going and we can win some games and make the playoffs."
M��| UPDATE— MacEwan Griffins (@MacEwanGriffins) January 8, 2023
Ashton Abel makes a huge save early in the first - one of 10 stops for the @MacEwanHockey netminder in the opening 20 minutes - as @MacEwanU & @DinosMHKY sit locked in a scoreless tie. Shots were 10-8 for the visitors in the first period.@CanadaWest #GriffNation pic.twitter.com/jwJV0JXmHu
Abel gave the Dinos fits for the first half of the game, coming up with several huge saves, including stopping a breakaway and a pair of one-timers in the first period. Calgary finally solved him from an unlikely place when Marty Westhaver fired a shot at him from the corner and it found a hole and trickled past the line.
"You know how things even out," said Dailey. "There's a huge save that probably shouldn't be a save and then ones like that go in. We're very happy he's with us in our program.
"This is the expectation for him. If we want to win hockey games, he's going to have to play well. So, I'm happy to see him do well, especially in back to back (games) where he had a bunch of shots last night and now he comes back and has this performance again, that's really good to see. You can tell he's put in the work to put himself in this position."
A neutral zone turnover led to the game-winning goal with 22.8 seconds left in the second period when Tyson Upper was sent in alone and made no mistake with a rip blocker side.
Carl Stankowski made 21 saves for the Dinos including robbing Kole Gable on a two-on-one one-timer with just less than seven minutes left that would have tied the game.
The Dinos put the game away in the final 1:32 when Jake Gricius and Riley Stotts scored empty net goals from their own end.
"That's a good team over there," said McLean. "It just goes to show we can play with them when we play our game. We can play with anyone in this league. I think you're going to see it a lot more this second half. We're going to be ready to go and we're going to push for the playoffs hard."