Brett Njaa scored his second overtime game winner in three days as MacEwan recovers from a 3-1 third-period deficit to beat NAIT 4-3 in overtime at NAIT Arena.
EDMONTON — After an incredible third-period rally – coming back from 3-1 down – Brett Njaa scored 4:51 into overtime to deliver a 4-3 win over the NAIT Ooks and MacEwan’s first ACAC men’s hockey championship since 2004 on Sunday night.
Njaa, who also played the hero in a Game 1 double overtime win over the Ooks, must have had eyes as big as saucers. The puck caromed off the end wall and he chopped it past NAIT goalie Brendan Jensen.
“It bounced off the end wall and it was right on my stick,” said Njaa. “I don’t remember what happened after that.”
What happened is his teammates poured off the bench at NAIT Arena, had a yard sale with their gear and enveloped in a wild celebration.
“Words can’t describe it … literally,” said emotional captain Ryan Benn afterward. “It’s the best feeling of my life.”
The feeling is even more incredible considering it appeared NAIT was on its way to a fourth title in the past five years when they took a 3-1 lead with 11:47 left.
Cameron Brezinski fired a shot off the end wall and, in his effort to find it, MacEwan goalie Marc-Olivier Daigle inadvertently put it in his own net.
Many in the crowd were leaving the Griffins for dead, but Cam Gotaas streaked in and put a backhand past Jensen with 11:13 left for his second of the game. Then Nolan Yaremchuk fired a shot that squeaked through Jensen’s pads with just 58 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
Griffins head Bram Stephen, over the moon afterward, couldn’t believe the dramatic finish.
“The last month or so we’ve been talking about the pursuit of excellence for 60 minutes and we kept referencing the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl,” he said. “Darned if the script wasn’t close to the same.
“It’s tough to stay with it after they scored that third goal, but our guys bounced back. We had a lot of clutch shifts late in the game and clutch goaltending.”
Stephen opted to pull Daigle after the own goal and backup Chris Wray mopped up nicely, shutting out the Ooks in 16:38 of work.
Although NAIT found themselves out front, MacEwan had the lion’s share of chances in the contest and deserved to be ahead. But their finish deserted them early as several players had point blank chances but couldn’t find a way to beat Jensen.
Gotaas finally did, though, opening the scoring at 8:02 of the second period when blew a snapshot past Jensen blocker side from the slot.
NAIT answered on the power play at 10:52 when Tyler Yaworski’s slapshot from the top right circle eluded Daigle. Then Jordan Abt’s seeing-eye wrister sifted through and off a few bodies in front at 19:05 and NAIT went to the room up 2-1 after 40 minutes.
But sometimes magical things happen for teams that are working hard. They get rewarded for their hustle and even the craziest mountains to climb become mole-hills.
“The amount of hard work that this group of guys and coaching staff puts in, we never had a doubt,” said Benn. “We knew that no one put in more work than us. We knew if we worked for 60-plus minutes that we wouldn’t be denied.
“Everything happens for a reason. We did it the hard way, but we had faith. There was never a single doubt in that room. The amount of work put into this championship was unbelievable.”
Fifth-year assistant captain Shawn Proulx is going out on top, hanging up the skates to focus on his dream of playing professional golf. He really couldn’t dream up a better finish.
“I can’t describe it. It’s been a long five years. The program’s come so far,” he said.
“To finish it off here, we built something incredible here. I can’t describe it. It’s too surreal. I can’t believe we just did this.”