MacEwan hockey teams celebrate championships in same season for the first time
The Griffins men's hockey team celebrates with the ACAC championship trophy on Sunday night at NAIT Arena (Len Joudrey photo).
Eight days earlier, the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team celebrated their own ACAC Championship at SAIT Arena in Calgary (Nick Kuiper photo).
Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
There have been some special moments in MacEwan University hockey history, but waking up Monday morning with both Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) trophies in hand tops them all.
For the first time in Griffins history both men’s and women’s hockey teams are ACAC champions at the same time.
Head coach Bram Stephen’s men’s squad manufactured a dramatic come-from-behind 4-3 overtime victory over the NAIT Ooks in Game 3 of the ACAC men’s championship on Sunday night to win their first title since 2004.
Eight days earlier, head coach Lindsay McAlpine’s Griffins women’s team had a rally of their own to beat SAIT 3-2 in overtime of Game 4 and claim their first title since 2008.
Both teams won for just the second time in their history, making the moment even more special.
“Lindsay and I are very close and a few weeks ago we were talking about our teams and both felt very similarly about the character in our room,” related Stephen. “We kind of thought ‘maybe this could happen.’ I think that was a fleeting thought – we didn’t really circle back to it again.
“I’m really proud of her and her program. I think she thinks the same for us.”
McAlpine and her entire team were out supporting and cheering as Stephen’s troops came back from 3-1 down midway through the third period on Sunday at NAIT Arena and won in overtime on Brett Njaa’s goal.
“It couldn’t have gone better for us. I think that’s what Bram and I imagined at the beginning of the year happening,” she said. “I think the coolest part about us winning it together is both programs are so supportive of each other and I think you could see it throughout the year, but especially throughout the playoffs in the physical support both teams provided to each other in clutch games. The boys were present for us in the stands in our finals and semifinals, as we were for their playoff run.
“I think this is a huge moment and a turning point in MacEwan’s hockey history.”
The morning after a jubilant post-game celebration, Stephen took stock in the accomplishment.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he said. “I think it was a great hockey game. Gosh, I hope it gets the coverage it deserves because I think it showcased the league really well.
“The way we did it spoke volumes to what kind of group we have in the room. It’s just a no-quit group – selfless, getting contributions from everyone. We didn’t shorten the bench at any point during the game. We brought in three new players and we brought in a second goalie in that game. I’m proud of the way we did it.”
The pride extends to the accomplishment of the Griffins women’s squad, which shut down SAIT with all-star goaltending from Sandy Heim and a suffocating defence to win the best-of-five finals in four games. In the deciding game, they came back from 2-0 down to win in overtime on Morgan Casson’s tally.
“I think they both carry a lot of the same characteristics where I think both coaching staffs have done it the right way in that we’ve taken the long view instead of the short-term view,” said Stephen.
“Both teams have an opportunity to be serious contenders for several years now because we’re not losing much. A lot of our core players are first and second years. Case in point: Morgan Casson and Brett Njaa are both second-year players, who scored the game-winners in back to back weeks.
“From that perspective, it’s really neat to know.”
The significance of the Griffins moving to their new home at the Downtown Community Arena and winning titles in their first year there is not lost on the coaches.
“I think the visibility with the Downtown arena was already a big step forward for us, but I think this just gives us merit in the Edmonton and Alberta hockey community,” said McAlpine.
Added Stephen: “We didn’t get the same chance to support the women like they were able to this weekend because ours finished a week later than theirs, but from my perspective it was neat to see the two teams have an opportunity to get to know each other a lot better being at the same rink. From that standpoint, it was really cool.”