The Muskie boys’ hockey team knows it will have to be a lot more disciplined moving forward.
For now, though, the squad is going to enjoy advancing to another league final.
Matt Spence scored twice to pace the Muskies to a narrow 5-4 win over the fourth-place Saint Thomas Aquinas Saints in Kenora in Game 2 of the best-of-three NorWOSSA semi-final series Thursday afternoon.
With the win, the top-ranked Muskies swept the series and now advance to face the second-place Sioux Lookout Warriors in a rematch of a last year’s best-of-three NorWOSSA final.
Action kicks off tonight at 7:15 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena here, with Game 2 going Friday night in Sioux Lookout.
Game 3 (if necessary) will be back here on Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
The Warriors beat the Muskies in three games in last year’s final and Sinclair knows staying out of the “sin bin” will be paramount to any success against their NorWOSSA rivals.
“Special teams, I’m sure, will be important as it always is,” he remarked. “We definitely need to be more disciplined.
“We took way too many penalties [against the Saints] and you can’t allow good teams free opportunities because of bad penalties,” he stressed.
“Our P.K. has been very strong for us all year, and we would like to get a little more out of our P.P. here in the final as it can play a big part in winning or losing,” Sinclair added.
Sioux Lookout boasts three of the four top scorers in regular-season play in Kendall Schulz (21 goals, 21 assists), Cortez Favot (19 goals, 13 assists), and Ben Forbes (11 goals, 14 assists).
As such, Sinclair knows the focus of his squad has to be on shutting down this high-flying trio.
“They play a lot so we have to be ready to skate with them and check with our feet,” he remarked.
“But I think we can also take advantage of that by running two or three lines against them and wearing them down so by the end of the game, they just don’t have the gas that we do.
“If we can do that, and check well, then we give ourselves a good chance at being successful,” he reasoned.
The winner of the NorWOSSA final will advance to the all-Ontarios, which is slated for March 19-21 in Kincardine.
As for the NorWOSSA semi-final last week against St. Thomas Aquinas, it was the Saints who opened the scoring early in the first period of Game 2 by getting one past Muskie goalie Darian Klem.
Despite Nolan Mann being sent off for a head contact penalty, Jake Barker evened it with a short-handed marker he fired past Saints’ goalie Isaac Fagnilli.
Mikel Ward then kept the puck on a 2-on-1 chance with Matt Spence before firing one home on a man advantage to make it 2-1 after 20 minutes.
After Ward was hit from behind, Spence made the Saints pay on the ensuing power play when he finished off a feed from Peyton Avis and Connor Nelson to stake the Muskies to a two-goal cushion in the second.
Spence then came through again later in the frame when he tipped in Nelson’s shot to make it 4-1 after 40 minutes.
Mason Barclay halved the deficit early in third when he made a beautiful move around Muskie forward Nick Gurski before jamming his own rebound past Klem.
But Jace Jackson tallied off a feed from Avis and Ward later in the frame to make it 5-2.
The black-and-gold then took a too-many-men penalty, during which the Saints opted to pull Fagnilli in order to gain a two-man advantage.
The Saints made good as they beat Klem with 1:47 to go to trim it to 5-3.
After a time-out, the Saints pulled Fagnilli once again and Barker almost made them pay for it–but his shot at the empty net went wide for an icing.
That missed proved costly as the Saints then tallied with 57.7 seconds left to trim it to 5-4.
But Klem and the Muskies stood tall from there to hold on for the win.
“I think for us in Game 2, by the end of the second [period] we were starting to wear them down and take advantage of a few breaks and chances we had,” Sinclair recalled.
“It was really a team win as we were able to roll [all] four lines.”
Fort High had opened the series the previous night with a 6-3 win at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Sheldon Kelly scored the eventual winner with 3:40 left in the third period while Ward netted a hat trick to pace the offence.
Some early penalty trouble proved costly for the Muskies as Ethan Hillhorst opened the scoring for the Saints on a two-man advantage 5:16 into the game when his slapshot beat Klem.
Ward then drew the Muskies level later in the frame when he crashed his way towards the net with the puck before jamming it past Fagnilli with 4:40 left in the period.
Barclay put the Saints ahead 2-1 nearly midway through the second on another two-man advantage when he fired a shot past Klem shortly after a face-off win in Fort High’s end.
But the Muskies roared back with a pair of short-handed tallies.
Ward collected the bounce of his own dump-in into the Saints’ zone off the end boards before firing one home less than a minute later.
Avis then tipped a shot from the point shortly afterwards that fooled Fagnilli as the Muskies forged ahead 3-2.
Another penalty again spelled disaster for the black-and-gold as Brett Riehl snapped one past Klem with 2:44 left to knot it at 3-3 after 40 minutes.
But Kelly put the Muskies ahead for good late in the third when he blocked a slapshot at the blueline before blazing up the ice and firing a rocket past Fagnilli.
Ward then completed his hat trick when he swiped the puck off a Saints’ player and buried one to make it 5-3 with 2:34 left in regulation.
Carson Noga capped the scoring with an empty-netter with 46 seconds to go.
“We know as a team we will have to play better against Sioux [Lookout] than we did against T.A.,” Sinclair conceded.
“We will have to have a more consistent effort as I felt we were strong at times, and then sleepy and just not sharp at others,” he noted.
“So it will be important for us to play complete games.
“I thought we skated pretty well in Game 1,” Sinclair added. “We just weren’t as sharp as we can be and maybe a little nervous or “panicky” with the puck at times.
“But at the end of the day, when we played 5-on-5, we started to control the game and found a way to win, which is [the] most important.”