Boys’ hockey roster in place

It was suitable that the back of Wade Friesen’s sweater read “Carnival of Carnage.”
Wearing a black hooded sweater that probably will fit him in two years, a pair of baggy jeans, and a toque with the heavy-metal band ICP (Insane Clown Posse) inscribed on the side, Friesen leaned up against the brick wall in the bowels of the Memorial Sports Centre adjacent to the Muskies’ locker room on Friday and awaited his turn to find out whether he would make the team.
The 16-year-old hunched down, tugged his toque even further over his brow, and stared ahead as others came out with either “the paper” in hand, denoting they had been given the practice schedule and therefore had made the team, or looking like they had just seen a ghost.
“I was thinking about what I was going to do if I got cut because there’s not a lot of options for me,” Friesen said after the Muskies’ final tryout session.
“I played double ‘A’ last year and it didn’t turn out as it should’ve,” he admitted.
Friesen, who had the stress level of a politician about to be thrown from his office, thought he had made the team as the number-two goalie (behind Cody Wood) the day before. But when he arrived at the rink Friday, he learned the process wasn’t over.
“I just wanted to see if I could make this team and there was a lot of stress,” he said.
“I thought yesterday [Thursday] was going to be the final cut and then I come here and they said I have to compete one last time against someone [Dedrik Bruggeman], and this guy doesn’t let a lot of goals in.”
But when Bruggeman, who looked solid in net, emerged from the locker room without “the paper,” and quietly told his counterpart “I got cut,” a look of bewilderment materialized on Friesen’s face as he looked up from his crouched position, his hands over his head, and said, “No way, you for real?”
Bruggeman nodded and Friesen stood up and played the part of sportsman, giving a hug to the goalie from Atikokan.
“I feel bad for the other goalies like [Mat] Gamsby and the goalie that just went out,” said Friesen. “I really feel bad for them because I’ve been in their shoes and I know what it’s like.”
You also wouldn’t have wanted to have worn the shoes of Muskie head coach Shane Bliss last week as he and his coaching staff had to make choices that brought players like Friesen to the heights—and others like Bruggeman to the depths.
“It was a really tough week. There were so many great kids that I know from coaching in the past and it was hard to let them go,” said Bliss, who also teaches at Fort High.
“You would like to be able to keep them all, but you just can’t.”
Seventy-six players came out for the tryouts with only 22 roster spots up for grabs. And because the competition was so close, some difficult choices had to be made.
“They worst day was yesterday [Thursday],” said Bliss. “We let go of a couple of players that had been on the team for a couple of years and they are great guys, but I know they wouldn’t be happy perhaps where their role might’ve been on the team.
“It’s a hard decision and every once in a while that does happen where guys that have been around for a while don’t make it, but those are definitely the hardest ones.
“And I saw some younger guys that probably brought a little bit more to the table in terms of this year and the future,” noted Bliss.
One of those young players who made an impression was Kevin Bobczynski.
“It was a really hard week and it took a lot out of me,” Bobczynski said outside of the arena as he was about to head home. “But I’m up for the challenge and I can’t wait for the season to start.
“I need to work on getting to be a smarter hockey player and trying to keep up with these guys, but I’m up for it,” the 14-year-old left-winger added.
Bliss also believes you must take the bad with the good. The Muskie program has been on the rise over the past few seasons and more players have been trying out, which subsequently results in more cuts being made.
“I think it’s on the upswing right now,” he remarked. “A few years ago they had a rough season and every program has it highs and lows. I’m encouraged by the numbers that were out and the kid’s attitudes that wanted to play.”
What’s more, Bliss is expecting at least 100 players to try out for next season’s Muskie squad because Fort Frances is hosting the all-Ontarios in 2006—which means an automatic berth for the black-and-gold.
Of course, that also means more difficult choices will be in store and that’s something Bliss never looks forward to.
“I don’t think there’s too much you can say to ease their pain,” he said. “You want them to know that you do feel for them and it’s not something you enjoy doing.
“And there’s nothing you can say to make them feel better, but they’ll eventually get over it,” he added. “I hope.”
As for the players who did crack the lineup, they aren’t out of the woods yet. Bliss expects them to maintain the same attitude they had in the tryouts and work hard—and not take anything for granted.
“I’m going to have to push Woody [starting goalie Cody Wood],” said Friesen. “I’m going to have to come out to every practice and just do my best and make sure I stop some shots.
“He’s going to have the number-one spot this year and I’m going to have to fight for it,” he added.
The Muskies, who open the NorWOSSA season Nov. 12 against the Red Lake Rams here, began their dry-land conditioning on Monday, which Bliss hopes will bring unity to the team.
It’s also where he will get a better idea if the choices made were the right ones.
“In the end, you just hope you made the right decisions,” said Bliss. “And that’s yet to be determined.”