Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Denied over and over again by Calgary goalkeeper Jake Ruschkowski, the MacEwan Griffins just kept coming in waves late in Sunday's Canada West match at Clarke Stadium.
With eyes wide as saucers as Stefan Gajic's 87th minute cross raced through the box, super-sub Joseph Abrahart hit the gas pedal, darting past a defender in time to chip the ball through Ruschkowski's outstretched hands and give MacEwan a 1-0 victory.
"We dug in and we left it late," said Abrahart, who was inserted into the contest in the 78th minute. "Their goalie was making some incredible saves, but that didn't stop us. We really dug in for the final few moments and were pressing up the field and really hard in their end. Eventually, some luck came our way and we put one past him."
Heartbroken Calgary saw the same movie a day earlier when Ruschkowski's gem against the Alberta Golden Bears was spoiled by an 88th minute Easton Ongaro tally.
On Sunday, the second-year keeper made six saves against MacEwan and the Dinos were again outshot (17-13 and 7-3 in shots on goal). Two of them were off sure goals as he flat-out robbed Jeeven Dhillon in the 56th minute and later got a fingertip on a point-blank blast from Everett Orgnero in the 65th.
"We're disappointed. You're right, two games on the bounce our keeper's been our MVP and he's been absolutely outstanding," said Calgary head coach Brendan O'Connell. "He's a great player for us.
"But we slipped up. Two mistakes and we've been punished for it. But in fairness, (MacEwan) did great today. They kept at it in working hard and got the result that probably they deserved."
Indeed, the Griffins were all over the Dinos in the second-half, so when a goal finally went in, their relief matched the elation. For the first time in Canada West play, the Griffins netted six points in a weekend after also beating Mount Royal University, 2-1 on Saturday.
"It's amazing," said head coach Adam Loga. "Like we've been mentioning, we have to learn how to win. I said to the lads at half-time, this game's for the taking. We took it as we did yesterday.
"It's nice to see that we're learning and we're progressing," he added. "The game at U of S hurt. Points were on the table for us to take and we didn't. But the guys have responded with a 2-0 weekend."
That moves MacEwan to 3-2-0 in the standings, while the Dinos fall to 1-3-0.
"I think it was just a great team performance all around," said Abrahart. "Obviously, I'm happy for the boys. It's our first six-point weekend, so that's something to be proud of. I'm just ecstatic."
That it came over two playoff teams from last year just a few weeks after the Canada West coaching fraternity picked them to finish last in the conference by a landslide, makes it all the more sweeter for MacEwan.
"Two playoff teams who are very talented and well coached," stressed Loga. "It's been a long time coming. It's good."
Calgary wasn't without its chances in an affair that was physical from the get-go. Their best came in the 76th minute when Dominik Zuczek was wide open at the top of the box but sent his attempt at the low left corner just wide. Then, in the 78th minute, Dinos' third-year forward Bryce Connors slipped a defender and chipped it wide on the other side.
"I just think as time was going on, we didn't take our chances," said O'Connell. "We changed the formation. We went really more attacking-minded, but we just couldn't put it in the net. Then we were just on borrowed time.
"We're disappointed with the weekend, but they've got to grow up and get on with it. Back to the training field and we go again."
The Dinos return home next Saturday to host Thompson Rivers University (2 p.m.), while the Griffins will host Trinity Western on the same afternoon (12 p.m.).
FREE KICKS: Both teams had seven corner kicks … There were five yellow cards in the contest, a chippy affair, particularly in the first half … Seth Johnstone made three saves for his first clean sheet of the season.