Breaking the ice
The first season at the highest post-secondary level
is in the bag for MacEwan Griffin’s hockey
By Gerard Murray
EIGHTH PLACE isn’t a place where they are used to seeing themselves, but the first season for the MacEwan Griffins women’s hockey team at the U SPORTS level can still be considered a success.
After the men’s and women’s teams made the jump from the Alberta College Athletic Conference (ACAC) level at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, they are now a part of the Canada West conference, the highest level of academic competition in the country.
This included playing against schools such as the University of Alberta for the first time.
While growing pains were to be expected – the men’s team certainly had them – the women, led by coach Lindsay McAlpine, were on the cusp of a playoff spot after they finished the season with a 6-14 record.
“I think our team was able to transfer the style that we played well in the ACAC into Canada West better than I expected,” McAlpine said.
It was a style of play that proved effective at the college level, with a chance at a fourth consecutive ACAC championship cut short due to playoff cancellations caused by the onset of COVID in early 2020. The men were in line for a fourth championship as well.
The hockey squads are the last of MacEwan’s teams to earn the promotion to U SPORTS, joining basketball, volleyball, and soccer – with the women’s soccer team winning the most recent national championship.
The original plan was to begin playing in U SPORTS for the 2020-21 season, but it was cancelled.
Despite this, there was not as much roster turnover as one might expect for a two-year waiting period at the university level. ACAC veteran leaders Chantal Ricker, Kyrelle Skoye, and Beth Taylor all extended their schooling to participate in the first U SPORTS season.
Starting goaltender Natalie Bender is one of four graduating players from the 2021-22 roster. (Gerard Murray)
Next year, the most painful player departure will be felt in the net, as starting goaltender Natalie Bender is also graduating soon.
“I’m going to ask [backup goaltender Brianna Sank] to step in to a starting goalie position at the Canada West level,” McAlpine said. “She’s been challenged this year with some ups and downs, but I think finished the season strong.”
Sank, who was the only goalie other than Bender to start a game for the Griffins this season, made nine appearances and finished with a 3-6 record and a .909 save percentage.
In building for the future, the Griffins are aware that small schools have disadvantages when it comes to recruiting high calibre players for Canada West hockey.
Playing for a small school, however, might appeal to others for the same reasons, with a downtown campus and smaller class sizes appealing to potential recruits who want a more focused education.
The Griffins facilities in the Downtown Community Arena – which doubles as a practice facility for the Edmonton Oilers – certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
“I think it depends on what role you want to play as a player,” McAlpine said. “I’m catering to players that maybe want to earn playing minutes earlier in their career, so I’ve got to find the right fit of personality there. I think another thing is playing for a female coach versus a male coach.”
All in all, it’s a learning process for everyone involved, coaches and players alike.
“There are equal lessons in the games that we won and the games that we lost,” McAlpine says. “That will continue with momentum into next year and .”