It’s been a rough start to the NorWOSSA regular season for the Muskie boys’ hockey team.
Not in terms of how they’ve played but in how depleted the roster has become due to a rash of early injuries.
The Muskies headed into Friday’s home-opener against the defending NorWOSSA champion Sioux Lookout Warriors with three defencemen on the shelf and knew they would be in tough.
Declan Webb (arm), Jace Jackson (broken thumb), and Austin Armstrong (foot) all sat out.
Fortunately for the Muskies (1-1), they were able to outlast the Warriors in a thrilling 5-4 victory at “The Duke” (Couchiching Arena) to earn their first win of the season.
“That’s their entire team, plus some ‘AAA’ players, that came back so they’re even better this year than last year,” Muskie head coach Jordan Sinclair said of the Warriors after Friday’s win.
“So it’s a big win for us to get on the board.
“It’s also a big win confidence-wise for our guys because as much belief as I had in them that we could do this, it’s something totally different to actually go and do it and then see it and believe it themselves,” he reasoned.
“From start to finish, I feel we really battled our guts out because we’re incredibly shorthanded as it is,” Sinclair noted.
“We’re down to two defencemen and then another one got injured and is out tonight, so I think we had four forwards that were back there playing ‘D.’
“I don’t think I saw one particular line that stood out more than the other,” he added.
“I think we were quite balanced and quite good.
“Ryan Redford made a couple of huge plays on defence and ultimately he is the starting factor of the final two goals we scored tonight [Friday].”
The Muskies resume NorWOSSA action tomorrow when they head to Kenora to face the Broncos.
Then they’ll cap the week by hosting the Dryden Eagles on Sunday (Dec. 2) at 4:15 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Sinclair believes the Muskies’ ability to skate with pace will be crucial to success in those games.
“I like the way that we attack,” he enthused. “I think that we got a lot of juice, got a lot of jam.
“I know that early on, in practices, that it seemed to me that we were able to get up and down the ice with pretty decent pace, and that’s certainly going to have to be a strength of ours and part of our identity and how we want to play.
“So that’s something we’re going to work on,” Sinclair vowed. “Playing with speed and pressure all over the ice can cause some havoc and make things difficult for the opposition.
“I’ve talked to the guys and told them that we’re going to continue to be on them, and try to build on it each and every day, so that we’re going even that much more tomorrow as we were today.”
The Muskies got off to a great start Friday night as defenceman Jace Dittaro opened the scoring just 2:30 into the game on a man-advantage when he took a feed from Mike Ward and wired a shot past Warriors’ goalie Jaden Marshall.
Peyton Avis doubled the lead just over a minute later with a wrist shot from in close.
But the Warriors (2-1) showed some of their championship pedigree by battling back to knot it at 2-2 after 20 minutes.
Warriors’ sniper Cortez Favot buried the rebound of point blast over Muskie goalie Darian Klem with 12:17 to go before Isaiah Lawson notched the equalizer on a man-advantage with just over five minutes left in the frame.
Connor Nelson gave the Muskies the lead once again just under two minutes into the second when he went end-to-end before zipping a shot past Marshall while being checked.
But the Warriors evened it at 3-3 with just 2:15 left in the frame when Ben Forbes rushed around the Muskie defence while short-handed before tucking it past Klem.
Cole Magill put the black-and-gold back in front 4-3 just over eight minutes into the third when he chipped a backhander past Marshall.
A breakdown defensively in the Muskie zone less than a minute later proved costly as Kendall Schulz was left all alone in front of Klem and made no mistake in roofing a shot just under the bar to knot it at 4-4.
But showing some resilience, Ward netted the game-winner with just 4:30 to go when he poked in a rebound from the right side of the net.
Klem earned the win while Marshall was saddled with the loss.
The Muskies had gone into Friday’s game fresh on the heels of a tough 5-4 loss to the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints in the NorWOSSA-opener last Tuesday in Kenora.
An inability to hold leads and stay out of the penalty box ultimately proved too much to overcome.
The Saints scored the go-ahead goal with just 1:10 to go to eke out the win.
Matt Warner opened the scoring for the hosts 4:14 into the first period but the Muskies battled back with three-straight markers off the sticks of Brady Bodnarchuk, Redford, and Avis.
Mason Barclay capitalized on a man-advantage with just 1:46 left to trim it to 3-2 after 20 minutes.
Barclay then knotted it for the Saints just 1:17 into the second on another man-advantage before Jacob Kipling put them ahead less than a minute later.
Ward evened it at 4-4 for the black-and-gold on a power play just eight seconds into the third.
But that good fortune didn’t last as the Saints netted the winner off the stick of Mason Spencer with time winding down in regulation.
Isaac Fagnilli earned the win while Klem allowed all five goals in taking the loss.