Coming off their first tournament title of the season, the Muskie girls’ hockey team figured it was hitting its stride.
But a pair of weekend stumbles showed the black-and-gold there is plenty of work left before they reach their peak performance.
The Muskies let what looked like a certain win slip through their fingers across the river Friday night as they watched a 2-0 lead turn into a 3-2 loss in exhibition play against the International Falls Broncos.
Then just 24 hours later, Fort High saw its NorWOSSA record drop to 1-3 following a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the host Dryden Eagles.
The Muskies’ last trip to Dryden ended with the black-and-gold in high spirits after capturing the Northern Shield Classic tourney on Nov. 27-28. But visions of their championship run still may have been filling their heads when it came time to get back to business against International Falls.
“The whole game we just weren’t focused,” noted Muskie coach Mel Langtry. “I think they were thinking ahead to the trip to Dryden the next night already.
“We had a lack of defensive zone coverage,” he added. “We started out good, but seemed to slow down. . . .
“International Falls is a hard-working team,” Langtry stressed. “They’ve got good size and they played the body quite effectively.”
Taylor Dixon quieted the Bronco fans with the only goal of the first period off a scramble in front of Falls’ goalie Taylar Nelson.
In the second, Jessie Baker passed the puck behind the net to Jillian Langtry. Her subsequent pass never made it in front of the net, but instead ricocheted off a Falls’ defender and ended up in the back of the net to give Langtry a gift goal at 6:34 and also give Baker her second assist of the night.
But one of hockey’s most enduring clichés is that a two-goal lead is the most dangerous one in the sport and that played itself out to a tee in the third—to the detriment of the Muskies.
First it was Mackenzie Raboin lighting the lamp at 7:11 to slice the Broncos’ deficit in half.
Three minutes later, more offensive pressure from the Broncos resulted in Amanda Hofius netting the tying goal past Fort High goalie Melissa Payne, who had taken over midway through the game from Dana Cridland (who stopped all 19 shots she had faced) in a pre-planned move by the Muskie coaches.
Then with only 5:32 to go, Raboin plagued the Muskies one final time—slipping the puck behind Payne to give International Falls the lead for the first time all night—and when it mattered most.
It was not one of the Muskies’ finer games in the discipline department, either, as Langtry bemoaned his team’s regular visits to the “sin bin.”
“There were seven penalties by us and we can’t be doing that,” he stressed. “Three were interference penalties, and we had hooking and high-sticking calls, as well.
“That comes from not moving your feet.”
The Broncos outshot the Muskies 30-24, with Nelson making 28 saves to earn the win.
Payne stopped eight of the 11 shots she faced.
Dryden, meanwhile, was itching for a rematch with Fort High after the Muskies upset the Eagles 4-3 in a shootout in the semi-finals of the Northern Shield Classic the previous weekend.
But the black-and-gold appeared to be in for more of the same good times when Shae-lynn Smith took a nifty feed from Dixon off a face-off win in the Eagles’ zone, made a deke, and then beat Brianna Brown for a 1-0 advantage with 2:46 left in the first.
The Eagles, though, were a much different team in the second period.
Halle Lobreau tallied the equalizer at 5:58, pounding the puck past Payne on a rebound from a scramble in front.
Then, with five minutes left in the period, a familiar thorn in the Muskies’ side dug herself in deep again.
Alex Wesley, who had two goals in the shootout loss the previous week against Fort High, chipped a shot from the corner that somehow snuck through Payne’s five-hole.
A scoreless third was not without opportunities for both teams, who took it to each other physically throughout the contest.
“The penalties were even, four each, and it was a pretty rough game,” said Langtry, who still was without forward Alyssa Penner after she suffered a wrist injury at the Dryden tourney and is out indefinitely.
“Dryden’s a little bigger team and with us still without Alyssa, it wore us down,” he noted.
The Muskies thought they had tied the game with six minutes left when Jillian Langtry’s shot hit the post, then the crossbar, and then dropped straight down. But the referee determined the puck had not crossed the goal line and waved off the goal.
With Payne on the bench for an extra attacker in the final minute, Fort High pressed for the tying goal but were held at bay by the Eagles, who outshot the Muskies 37-29 in the game.
Brown finished with 28 stops for Dryden while Payne recorded 35.
“Our defence is playing well but we’ve only had a couple of games where we’ve had more than four goals all year,” Langtry said about his team’s offensive turmoil.
“It seems like we’ve only got a couple of girls doing much of the scoring.
“We need secondary scoring,” he stressed. “We have to get all three lines rolling.”
The Muskies faced the Falls Broncos in a rematch last night at the Ice For Kids Arena (the outcome wasn’t known by press time).
This weekend, it’s off to Manitoba for the black-and-gold as they take part in the Portage Collegiate Institute Trojans Christmas Classic tournament in Portage la Prairie.
Fort High will take on the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora) in their first game Friday morning, then battle the W.C. Miller Aces from Altona later that day.
The Muskies will complete the preliminary round against the Sanford Collegiate Sabres on Saturday.
Langtry anticipates another possible battle looming at the Portage tourney with the Pembina Valley Tigers since the Manitoba squad is in the pool opposite the Muskies, setting up the chance the two teams might meet in the final for their fifth clash already this year.
The Tigers have won the last three meetings after the black-and-gold won the first go-round.
The Muskies’ next NorWOSSA game is against the Red Lake Rams on Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the ‘52 Canadians Arena.