Have you ever watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? The one where Ty Pennington, the jack-of-all-trades host of the show, finds a family with a run-down house and builds them the biggest house they can imagine?
It felt like that’s what happened with MacEwan and the newly-built Downtown Community Arena compared to their previous barn (sorry, Bill Hunter).
The MacEwan men’s hockey team played their first regular season game in the arena on Saturday night, beating the Augustana Vikings 4-3 in overtime to split the weekend series. Veteran Shawn Proulx notched the overtime winner to seal the first game in the new rink for the Griffins.
The crowd to support the team was massive — something seldom seen at Bill Hunter Arena, the men’s former home. Griffins students, staff, athletes, alumni and even the city’s mayor were on-hand to take in MacEwan’s first game as part of their new chapter.
“It’s part of a wonderful partnership with MacEwan, who chose to come downtown 20 years ago before it was hip,” Mayor Don Iveson said overtop the loud boos resulting from an Augustana goal.
It was supposed to be the Griffins’ night, but the Vikings scoring first let them know they weren’t going to lie down. The team recognized its slow start.
“I think we kind of went through the motion of having a new rink and (with) all the people, we’re not used to that,” Proulx said.
Bram Stephen, MacEwan’s head coach, shared that sentiment. “We tried to plan for the different environment — you know there’s going to be some jitters early on,” he said.
But the goal seemed to wake the team up — just five minutes later, team captain Ryan Benn scored MacEwan’s first regular season goal at the Downtown Community Arena.
Just over a minute later, Tyler Morrison added one more, putting MacEwan up 2-1 near the end of the first period.
However, Augustana wasn’t about to give up. Towards the end of first period, the Vikings dominated, nearly scoring multiple times. Griffins goaltender Chris Wray stood tall, keeping the Griffins on top.
The Vikings were flying again at the start of the second, but it was MacEwan that struck again; Morrison notched his second of the game on the powerplay, making it 3-1.
After the insurance marker, the Griffins sat back a bit — this allowed the Vikings to build a bit of momentum. Couple that with some penalty trouble and the Vikings were able to push the Griffins against the wall on a 5-on-3.
With eight minutes left, the Vikings were within one.
Meanwhile, across the way in the Rogers Place, the Edmonton Oil Kings game was delayed for over 30 minutes due to a malfunction with a hydraulic lift on the ice.
Needless to say, things weren’t looking so great for Edmonton’s hockey teams.
Augustana tied it up 3-3 in the third period and seemed as if they had most of the momentum in the last frame heading into overtime.
Stephen knew heading into the game that Augustana would be a tough team to beat. “If there were odds makers, they’d be the team to beat in the ACAC this year,” he said.
Augustana continued its dominance over MacEwan in the overtime period; the Vikings held the offensive zone for about a minute before the Griffins’ goaltender Wray covered up.
“It’s kind of humourous,” Stephen said when asked of the first minute of the overtime period. “It looked exactly like the first minute of overtime last night.” Augustana scored in that first minute last night and, after seeing the dominance again tonight, noted it’s something his team needs to work on.
“Obviously, if it were the playoffs (then) it’d be different, but we just need to spend some time working in our zone,” he said.
Luckily for the Griffins, the Vikings didn’t score in that onslaught tonight. Then, after winning a draw and catching a rush, Proulx scored the winner.
— MacEwan University (@MacEwanU) September 25, 2016
(Around this time, the Oil Kings moved the hydraulic machine off the ice, so everyone wins!)
MacEwan President David Atkinson was amongst the crowd Saturday night, and after the win, he was visibly elated.
“It’s amazing for three reasons: number one, we’re in this arena, number two, it was a really good game, and number three, we won!” he exclaimed.
“The whole institution is really coming of age,” he added. But it was a conversation he had with his wife prior to the game that stuck with him.
“She said, ‘that arena, is really just part of your campus,’” he said, obviously in agreement with the statement. With the cheers and support echoing through the arena after the overtime goal, it seems the Griffins have finally found their home.
Stephen overwhelmed by crowd
The goal by Proulx was his 41st of his MacEwan University career. Coincidentally, Benn’s first period goal was also his 41st goal of his Griffins tenure.
Now they’re in a three-way tie for most goals scored in a MacEwan Griffins men’s hockey career.
When asked about who he thought would have the record by season’s end, Stephen gave the most diplomatic answer he could. “I just hope (both of them) break it by a few,” he said with a laugh, adding he’s incredibly proud of both players for the leadership they provide for the team.
Though Stephen isn’t satisfied with the weekend split, he says his team is still trying to get used to the new rink — and the crowd certainly helped.
“I can’t tell you how much we really appreciate the support tonight, and hopefully that continues,” he said.
“If you’re playing off campus for four years and that happens, I can’t really tell you the emotions we feel behind that.”
The Griffins’ next game is against the Concordia Thunder on Sept. 30.
Photos by Kyle Muzyka.