By Dan Falloon, sports reporter
It’s a good thing Duncan Keith and his Canadian teammates hung on to capture Olympic gold over the U.S. on Sunday afternoon.
If the Americans had triumphed in overtime after netting the tying goal in the final minute of the third period, it’s hard to imagine less than 85 percent of residents not calling in sick on Monday.
That’s because Fort Frances teams suffered a couple of debilitating losses over the weekend, so Team Canada’s gold was a must to avoid bringing any malicious divine intervention into question.
Both the Fort High senior boys’ basketball and the girls’ hockey teams were felled by devastating losses over the weekend. And both were of the “Is this really happening?!” variety.
It seems like an appropriate place to bring in Bill Simmons’ “Levels of Losing.”
Simmons, an ESPN analyst and die-hard Boston Red Sox fan, outlined the 13 levels of losing in a 2002 article—two years before his beloved baseball team broke their so-called World Series curse.
Simmons’ article breaks down tough losses right from Level XIII (“The Princeton Principle,” when an group of plucky underdogs puts itself in a position to pull off a huge upset but loses it) down to Level I (“That Game,” the touchstone moment in any cursed franchise’s history, like Bill Buckner’s booted ball for the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series versus the N.Y. Mets).
It’s hard to say that either of the Muskie losses were “That Game.” And in both instances, the teams were fairly evenly matched against their respective opponents.
A Muskie hoopsters’ win in Game 3 of the NWOSSAA final here Saturday afternoon would have been an upset in terms of expectations going in, with the country mice matching up against the city ones.
But once the two teams hit the court, it really could have gone either way given both sides had explosive players who could break open a game.
The black-and-gold felt the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the span of about 45 seconds, thinking they had edged the Sir Winston Churchill Trojans (Thunder Bay) 49-48 to advance to the all-Ontarios.
Trailing 48-46, Josh Strain had driven down the court and netted a bucket to tie the score, then the ensuing foul shot gave the black-and-gold the lead with just seven seconds left.
The Trojans marched back up the court. And after the ball was knocked out of bounds, the visitors had a throw-in with 1.5 seconds to go.
It seemed like just enough time for something to happen, but it would have to happen fast.
When the Muskies immediately swarmed around the in-bound ball and the buzzer sounded, it seemed like a joyous moment in Muskie basketball history.
A win would have meant the basketball team’s first trip to OFSAA since 2001—no small feat.
But a foul was called against the Muskies, giving Churchill’s Tim Baxter a shot to tie and a shot to win. Baxter calmly sunk a pair of no-doubters, and the crowd turned from stunned to vicious quickly.
With the officials having raced to the adjoining small gym, some fans turned on the Trojans—labelling them “cheaters” and declaring a Muskie victory.
Fortunately, nothing physical came to be, but some of the competitive intensity derived from an intense, back-and-forth, basket-for-basket game quickly morphed into an ugly scene that belittled the play of both teams.
The passion is good, and appreciated, but good call or bad call, it was unpopular. And it’s hard to blame the refs for scurrying away after making what they felt was the right decision.
That said, the verdict is a Level II (“The Stomach Punch”). Simmons doesn’t address an officiating call in his assessment, noting that it’s either an opponent making a spectacular play, or one of the losing players coming up short in the clutch.
Simmons addresses a call changing the game down at Level X, but his description of the crowd after a Stomach Punch Game was, even briefly, more appropriate: “Usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all. . . . Always haunting, sometimes scarring.”
This was the scene for the Muskie faithful who didn’t spit slander at the Trojans.
That loss is going to be a bitter one to swallow, especially if Churchill makes any sort of statement at OFSAA.
Still, the Muskies served notice they are a force to be reckoned with. And with sharpshooters Josh Strain and Justin Anderson planning to return next season, the black-and-gold should be able to make some noise in 2010-11.
The Muskie girls, meanwhile, fell 6-5 in overtime to the Kenora Broncos to lose their best-of-three NorWOSSA semi-final series 2-0.
Sunday afternoon’s showdown here was rough and tumble all around, and culminated with an injury to starting goalie Melissa Payne as Bronco players crashed the Muskie net as time expired in the second period.
The Muskies had led 4-2 at that point, but anyone who followed the team this season will be able to relate to Level III (“The Guillotine”).
In recent games, the black-and-gold had gotten into the habit of staking themselves out to a nice lead—only to see it evaporate in the third period.
It happened in Friday night’s 6-4 loss in the series opener in Kenora, and it happened again in Game 2 to bounce the Muskies from the playoffs.
It’s almost as if, as Simmons said, there was a sense of it coming: “You keep waiting for the guillotine to drop . . . when it finally comes, you’re angry that it happened and you’re angry at yourself for contributing to the debilitating karma.”
There was a sense of optimism early in the game as Fort High seemed to be having their way with the Bronco defenders. But a sense of gloom seemed to set in after Payne’s injury as the goalie lay on the ice for more than half-an-hour before being carted off on a stretcher.
When play did resume, the guillotine began to glimmer as Kenora scored on back-up goalie Dana Cridland in the first minute of the third.
And even though the Muskies did respond to make it 5-3, the sense of impending disaster seemed to overtake the ’52 Canadians Arena—and wasn’t helped when the Broncos scored a couple of quick ones late to tie it up.
By the time the buzzer sounded to end regulation time, unfortunately for the locals, the ending seemed like a foregone conclusion. And sure enough, Kenora’s Ainsley Lindquist wrapped things up 8:35 into overtime.
It was rough to register two heart-breaking losses so high on Simmons’ scale in general, let alone on the same weekend, but the Muskies still have a chance for redemption as the boys’ hockey team kicks off its best-of-three NorWOSSA final against Dryden here Friday night.
Let’s just hope “That Game” doesn’t make an appearance this coming weekend.
By Dan Falloon, sports reporter