Champs going through growing pains

I was not in town last season as the Muskie boys’ hockey team knifed through every team en route to the gold medal at OFSAA ‘A/AA’ showdown in Burlington.
So I had a lot to learn about this squad, which has gone through quite the metamorphosis this season.
But one thing I do know is once you win any title in any league, two things become engraved—your name on that trophy and a big bull’s-eye on your jersey for the following season no matter how many players are coming back.
And for the most part, other teams have had a field day picking off that bull’s-eye.
We can beat a dead horse on the reasons why the Muskies have such a different team this season. We can go on about how the Taggs ‘AA’ Bantam team is usurping grade nine talent from the team, or even worse, the dreaded “Borderland Thunder effect” that has taken their top veterans.
“Turnover is what every team deals with,” reasoned Red Lake head coach Mark Wilkins after his team took two games from the Muskies here last month. “That’s tough that you have to start right from the bottom.”
But the former Muskie himself said there’s a big difference between understanding the growing pains off the ice and taking advantage of it on the ice.
“We’ve been on the other end of some lopsided scores for two years against them and now we’re willing to give it right back,” said Wilkins, whose team currently sits in second place in NorWOSSA with a 5-2 record after going 2-14 last season.
Four games into the campaign, Muskie head coach Glen Edwards said he was tired of using youth as an excuse, stressing there comes a time to just settle down and play some hockey.
Granted, the black-and-gold is a respectable 2-5 against American teams in exhibition and tournament play—but all the losses have been out-and-out blowouts (ranging from 13-3 to 9-1).
That can’t help a team’s confidence. But that’s not to say the decision to play these teams was a mistake.
“We knew the American tournaments and teams would be tough. It’s good for the kids. That’s how they’re going to learn,” said Muskie assistant coach Ken Christiansen.
“To get better, you have to play good teams. It’s not something we’ll shy away from,” echoed Edwards.
One must give credit to the team. They still come to play every game—despite the loss of veterans, games, and fans. And it’s something the coaching staff takes pride in.
“We’re just going to continue to work hard,” said Christiansen. “In the meantime, we’ll take our lumps.”
A run at the NorWOSSA playoffs is still foreseeable, too. At the Christmas break, the Muskies were 1-5-1 in NorWOSSA play—good for fourth place out of five.
Sioux Lookout was in last place with a 1-6 record, and chances are it will be a dogfight between the Muskies and the Warriors for that fourth-and-final playoff spot come February.
Another thing that’s certain is no matter what, the champions of any league will continue to be the talk of the division until that title is officially taken away.
“I expect they’ll have stronger team [by] the end of the season,” said Wilkins.
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Well, it looks like CBC’s beleaguered “Hockey Day in Canada” will find its way to Fort Frances this Saturday after all. You know, how typical is that to have a sporting event nearly axed by a labour dispute?
In this day and age, it seems to be a form of christening.
Nonetheless, I’m sure the Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association will do their best to get everything ready for Saturday afternoon, albeit with short notice.
I encourage everyone to come down to the Ice for Kids arena for the jamboree. And it’s not for the benefit of the CBC—this is probably your best chance to watch most of this town’s hockey talent in one afternoon from novice to Bantams.
• • •
Melissa Whitmell will be one of eight runners from Northwestern Ontario competing at the annual Arthritis Society’s “Joints in Motion” marathon at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. this Sunday.
About 17,000 runners are set to take part in the race. Whitmell, a 29-year-old Barwick native, had to raise $3,500 for the Arthritis Society to compete in the race.
Whitmell’s mother, Faye Morken, and mother-in-law, Becky Whitmell, who both suffer from arthritis, are her “arthritis heroes”—selected as partners in fundraising.
• • •
OK, so my picks for the annual Canadian sports awards weren’t exactly on the money. While Catriona Le May Doan did win female athlete-of-the-year, golfer Mike Weir narrowly edged out Joe Sakic (whom I voted for) for male athlete-of-the-year.
And the figure skating duo of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier won team-of-year, beating football’s St. Mary’s Huskies (whom I voted for) in the balloting.
I guess it slipped my mind Weir won the PGA tour championship.
Sure, he’s no Sakic. And Weir didn’t win the Hart Trophy nor captain a team to the Stanley Cup—arguably the most prestigious team title in North America.
But I guess he improved Canada’s standing in professional golf and that’s probably what most of the other voters decided in their “We beat the Americans at something” minds.
Sorry, just ranting—and whining.
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