Jury still out on Muskie boys’ squad

I spent most of my weekend sitting in the press box at the Ice for Kids Arena watching this year’s edition of the Muskie boys’ hockey team play their first exhibition games.
The black-and-gold played two games each against the Green Bay Bobcats and Shattuck St. Mary’s Sabres. The result? Four lopsided wins for the home crew.
Normally such convincing victories would be cause for great celebration. I mean, it isn’t every day the home team’s average margin of victory is four goals.
However, before people crown this Muskie squad the best high school team in the province, there’s something that should be kept in mind and that’s the quality of the opposition over the weekend here.
The Green Bay Bobcats undoubtedly were a talented team. They just happened to be missing seven players, including four from the Czech Republic who apparently had issues getting the proper paperwork filed in time to be able to come north of the border.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Green Bay also was missing another three who still were competing on the frozen football fields of Wisconsin.
That translated into the Bobcats playing all four of their games with only six substitutes on their bench. The Muskies, meanwhile, had four full lines.
The Bobcats never stood a chance. They were competitive early in the game but as they became fatigued, the goals started pouring into their net.
Shattuck St. Mary’s, meanwhile, were an extremely young team. The oldest players only were in Grade 11—and there were just three of them on the entire roster.
The rest of the squad was made up of Grade 9 and 10 students.
The Muskies pounded the smaller Sabres into submission and then increased the pressure in the offensive zone.
The point I’m trying to make here is that neither club—the Bobcats nor the Sabres—even came close to matching the Muskies in terms of talent on the ice.
As such, it’s tough to determine just how good the black-and-gold is going to be this season based on their performances against either of their opponents.
But while we can’t know how good this team is going to be, we can get a feel for the type of hockey they are going to play.
Based on what I saw this weekend, I think it’s fair to say the Muskies are not going to be very fun to play against. They are a physical and relentless bunch. They like to finish their checks, and they are disciplined enough that they keep their shifts short and their legs fresh.
I also was impressed by how they went to the net in order to set screens and to chase rebounds. It’s refreshing to watch a team that will cycle the puck and crash the crease all on the same shift.
It’s a lesson my beleaguered Ottawa Senators could stand to learn.
Another good sign is that the Muskies won each of their four games this weekend. They were games the black-and-gold should have won given the disparity in the talent levels of the two competing teams—and they did.
That’s a good sign. The first step to being a championship team is winning the games you are supposed to win.
This past weekend’s exhibition games were a nice start to what could be a good season. The real test begins this weekend, though, when Red Lake comes to town for a pair of games to kick off the NorWOSSA season.
I imagine everyone will have a better handle on this Muskie team come Monday morning having seen it compete against comparable talent in meaningful games.
acruickshank@fortfrances.com

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