EDMONTON, AB — He once stared down shots from Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.
So when it comes to challenges at the ACAC level, it’s no wonder Marc-Olivier Daigle has impressed.
Last month, the Griffins goaltender broke the record for the longest shutout string in program history when he went 143 minutes and 27 seconds without allowing a goal. That streak spanned four different games, including back-to-back shutouts over Concordia and Briercrest.
“As a team, after playing that tournament after Christmas, we were ready,” said Daigle, who is in his first year with the Griffins. “We prepared a lot. We had a good mentality. We knew what we want, what our goal is. So as a group, I think we all pull the rope in the same way.
“The guys made the shots easy for me to stop because they were there to support me back there.”
But there have been plenty of evenings when it’s worked the other way, where Daigle has bailed his team out.
“There’s been a couple nights where he has been the difference in the hockey game,” said head coach Bram Stephen. “He’s shown the ability to dominate a game. There’s been a couple other nights when I felt we were being outplayed and he almost stole us one.”
One of those was in MacEwan’s last action on Jan. 21 when they hosted NAIT.
“We actually had a crack at it, even though we didn’t play very well,” said Stephen, who got 24 saves from Daigle in a 3-2 loss.
Hailing from Montreal, Daigle has taken an interesting path to Western Canada, one that included a year in Halifax playing for the QMJHL’s Mooseheads as a 17 year old. While there, he was teammates of Mackinnon and Drouin – (“They’re really good players. They can do some amazing stuff. Now I’m proud to say I played with those guys.”) – but he saw limited action and didn’t factor in their plans at the end of the 2011-12 season.
He just wanted to play, so when the Drayton Valley Thunder of the AJHL contacted him, Daigle packed his bags and moved west.
“From Quebec, I learned some things about Junior A in the west,” he said. “I got to Drayton Valley and I got treated very well. What I wanted to was to play hockey and be a starting goalie. I got the chance there.”
He adjusted so well that he became an AJHL all-star in his first season. As it turns out, that landing spot laid the groundwork for his recruitment to the Griffins. Not only did Stephen serve as an assistant coach in Drayton Valley before Daigle got there, but Thunder goalie coach Dave Rathjen co-owns ATC Goaltending with current Griffins goalie coach Jamie McCaig.
Still, Daigle wound up going to the University of Alberta out of junior.
“Obviously I chose the U of A because I’d heard good things about them, a winning program,” he said. “And as a hockey player, that’s what you want to do. But I didn’t get the opportunity like I was planning on getting there.”
He spent the entire season rotating between the bench and the stands behind starter Luke Siemens and backup Ryan Demharter.
So he went back to Stephen, who was still very much interested.
“We tried really hard to convince him to come here for his first year, but he had the CIS option at the time in the same city,” said the coach. “It’s hard for us to really be upset because he took his opportunity and it didn’t work out. What we pitched him at the start was come here and you’ll get more playing time to start. Hopefully that resonated with him.”
What stuck with him from his time with the Golden Bears, though, was the professional approach to the game. And Daigle has brought that level of preparation to MacEwan.
“He understands how things are done at the U of A and he’s brought a certain level with him over here,” said Stephen. “That’s been good to have. He’s been very professional how he’s approached the year.”
And it shows in the stats. Heading into a weekend series against Red Deer (Friday at RDC, 7 p.m. and Saturday at the Downtown Community Arena, 6 p.m.), Daigle is second in the ACAC with a 2.16 goals against average, and third in save percentage at .922.
“He’s a competitive guy,” said Stephen. “He wants to be in the net. One of the things I noticed when we first recruited him is he’s pretty dedicated to his craft. He just wants an opportunity. I think he’s thrived in his role with us.
“He’s a very balanced goalie,” he added. “He’s pretty sound technically, he’s really athletic. He does a lot of things quite well. He’s a goaltender you feel comfortable with because he does do most things quite well.”
Daigle and fellow MacEwan goalie Chris Wray will need to come up big down the stretch for the Griffins as they aim to solidify their position before playoffs start. At 15-6-1, they’re five points back of NAIT and SAIT for one of the top two first-round playoff bye spots. And UAlberta-Augustana is suddenly breathing down their necks, just two points behind in fourth. RDC sits with fifth with an 8-9-3 record.
“There’s some good teams in this league,” said Daigle. “We’re all battling for the top position. It’s going to be ‘who wants it more?’
“It’s just who’s going to battle harder in the end and come out on top.”