Been gone for too long

It’s been so long since I’ve written a column, I’m almost not sure where to begin.
My apologies for the absence. Trust me, it wasn’t due to a lack of desire to touch base with you all.
But it’s been such a vibrant, exciting, and extremely busy sports scene all winter, I felt it was more important to regale you with tales of our local athletes’ adventures than trumpet my own thoughts and opinions at the expense of those with more important stories to share.
But with spring having finally sprung (there will be no snow on Friday . . . I have spoken), I have a humongous pile of housekeeping items to touch on, with not all of them making it in today.
So, onwards with the first of a two-part edition of “Goalline Stand: Joey’s Random Thoughts, the All-Hockey Edition.”
•No end of pride from this observer watching the dramatic successes of the Muskie girls’ and boys’ hockey teams in both reaching the quarter-finals at OFSAA.
There was history everywhere you looked. There were the Muskie girls beating the Dryden Eagles to capture their first-ever NorWOSSA crown and making it to the all-Ontarios for the first time in the program’s existence.
Then there were the Fort High boys, putting on an all-time comeback from three goals down in the final 10 minutes to beat the Robert F. Hall Wolfpack and qualifying for the playoff round for the first time since they won it all in 2001.
Kudos to both teams for a season to remember. May next year be the same yet even better.
•Further on that note, a great tip of the hat to the Muskie girls’ program for having four of its graduating members sign with the Rainy River Community College Voyageurs for next season.
I have a strong feeling Shelby Tymkin, Shilo Beck, Katie Sinclair, and Hailey Clendenning are going to not only survive but thrive at the college level—and maybe even return the Voyageurs to its status as perennial national championship contenders.
•One more black-and-gold hockey hope is that those in charge of making the decision give the thumbs-up to the Muskie boys hosting the 2017 OFSAA championship.
All four times it’s been held in Fort Frances, the tournament has been nothing short of a roaring success, with teams from out-of-town staggered by the amount of community support.
All things being equal, it should be a no-brainer for the OFSAA committee when they announce the 2017 host site this fall. The Fort is the only way to go.
•Quite the season for Ted Nolan.
The Garden River First Nation product started his hockey season by teaching a group of aboriginal youth the finer points of the game at his son’s hockey camp, which served as the first major event held in the new Couchiching Arena last August.
From there, he wound up getting hired by the Buffalo Sabres to take over for fired bench boss Ron Rolston, in what seemed like an unthinkable return to the organization that basically ran him out of town on a rail in 1997—despite him winning the Jack Adams Trophy that season as coach-of-the-year.
Shortly after being hired back, Nolan and the Sabres faced Craig Berube and the Philadelphia Flyers in an unprecedented NHL match-up of head coaches that both have First Nations’ status.
Then during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Nolan led a gritty Latvian contingent to the quarter-finals for the first time in that country’s history and almost pulled off the all-time Olympic upset over Team Canada before falling short by only one goal.
To top it off, with most people wondering if he was just a stopgap measure behind the Sabres’ bench, Nolan received a three-year extension March 31 to stay on as Buffalo’s head coach.
Full credit to a man who never gave up hope, who remains fiercely proud of his aboriginal heritage, and who is, for my money, one of the sharpest coaches in the game today.
If anyone can turn the Sabres’ train wreck around, it’s Ted Nolan.
•I’ll keep my NHL playoff predictions relatively short and to the point (now there would be a first for this writer).
In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins—despite a Game 1 hiccup—will overcome the Detroit Red Wings while the N.Y. Rangers will fend off the Flyers.
The Montreal Canadiens and the Pittsburgh Penguins also will move on after taking care of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively.
In the West, the San Jose Sharks look good to move past the L.A. Kings, the Colorado Avalanche will derail the Minnesota Wild, and the Anaheim Ducks will dispose of the Dallas Stars.
I also believe the St. Louis Blues will send the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to the sidelines.
Okay, one digression (hey, I had to have one in a column).
If Fort Frances’ transplanted hockey son and Hawks’ defenceman Duncan Keith actually, as is being reported, taunted Blues’ forward David Backes with “Wakey, Wakey, Backey,” after Backes was dropped by an elbow to the head from Keith’s now-suspended defence partner Brent Seabrook, he should be ashamed of himself.
Keith was asked repeatedly about the taunt, with his repeated response being, “I don’t know everything that gets said.”
Sure, he didn’t. It’s not like it was a pivotal point of the game that anyone remembers—unless, of course, you actually were watching the game or heard anything about it later.
Most non-denials I’ve ever witnessed in sports equate generally to the same as admitting to the crime.
If it happened to one of Keith’s teammates, I’m guessing the defenceman’s comments wouldn’t have approached anywhere near the vicinity of poor-quality stand-up comedy.