Eagles snatch Muskie boys’ OFSAA hopes

Dan Falloon

With such a short NorWOSSA soccer season, the balance of power can change quickly.
The Muskie boys’ team found that out the hard way at the NorWOSSA playoffs in Dryden last Wednesday as the host Eagles shot from a distant third place heading into the day to being crowned league champs at the end of it, edging Fort High 3-2 on penalty kicks in the final with a trip to the all-Ontarios on the line.
The Eagles fought back from a 2-0 deficit, repeating the semi-final game when they blitzed Kenora for four-straight goals en route to a 4-2 victory, to deny the Muskies a chance for a second-straight NorWOSSA title.
While disappointed, Muskie coach Shane Beckett felt his team followed the game plan closely, but were done in by a couple of unlucky plays.
“It was a hard-fought game from both sides, and our boys came out and did everything they were supposed to do,” he remarked.
“A guy scores a goal on a missed punt by our keeper [Matt DePiero] that bounces off a guy’s back and into our own goal, and they score another goal when our keeper gets thrown to the ground,” Beckett recalled.
“Those bounces are going to happen,” he stressed. “It’s just unfortunate that we had to have two of them in the same game.”
DePiero said he didn’t know exactly what happened on the tying goal—just that he was on the ground and the ball was in the net.
“There were guys everywhere, and I was going for the ball, and all of a sudden somebody grabbed my jersey and pulled me down,” he recalled afterwards.
“I don’t really know what happened, it just happened so fast,” he added. “I just found myself on the ground.
“It’s not a big deal, it’s just one of those things that happens,” he reasoned. “You can’t dwell on it.”
DePiero owned up to erring on Dryden’s first goal—and noticed a bit of a change in flow after it went in.
“They [the Eagles] took advantage of their opportunities. I had that one bad mistake there I made in the back and they capitalized on it,” he lamented.
“That was kind of a turning point in the game.
“Our guys played hard, didn’t quit all game, and it just wasn’t meant to be for us,” DePiero added.
“For Dryden to come and win two games, being down 2-0 in both games, obviously, it was their destiny or something.”
That’s the attitude Fort High seemed to take, charging forward in an attempt to regain the lead.
With the game tied at 2-2 and the black-and-gold battling the wind, a trio of Muskie scoring chances whizzed past the posts of the Eagles’ cage, including a pair just to the right of keeper Zach Lake’s net.
“We still had the opportunity to put the game away, we just didn’t do it,” Beckett sighed afterwards.
That included the penalty kicks, which Beckett had made sure to prepare the Muskies for since many NorWOSSA championships in recent memory weren’t decided in regulation time.
“In this league, it just seems to be the way it goes,” he noted. “Last year, we went into overtime and two years previous, we won in penalties and the year before that, we lost in penalties.
“Penalties seem to be the way that championships are decided in our league, so we do practice it quite a bit and especially in this last week.”
Both teams’ attempts mirrored each other until the final shooter as Jameson Shortreed and Jeff Gustafson netted goals on Fort High’s first two attempts.
Nathan Bujold was stopped by Lake before Dave Chambers put one in. Colton Spicer then missed high before Dryden buried one to win it.
“We were prepared for it,” Beckett reiterated. “I really thought that if it came to [penalty] kicks that we would definitely have the upper hand, but it wasn’t the case today.”
Spicer had a bittersweet day, missing Fort High’s last attempt after scoring both goals in the first half.
“Those were two goals that he earned by working hard,” lauded Beckett. “He’s a big member of the team.”
Beckett counted on that hot foot to remain scorching, but Spicer’s attempt just had a little too much mustard on it, setting up the opportunity for Dryden to steal the win.
“It’s a tough spot for him to be in as a Grade 9,” Beckett acknowledged. “It was a tough decision, because I had another guy pencilled in, [but] I knew Colton was hot today and scored two goals.
“He’s the leading goal-scorer in the league,” Beckett stressed. “He’s, by far, the leading goal-scorer on our team, and he missed six games this year, so how do you not have him take penalty shots?”
Beckett was torn about slotting in Spicer. Writing him in for fifth meant he might not shoot, but if he did, it would be a pressure-packed situation.
“We put him in for fifth because sometimes it doesn’t get to the fifth shooter,” Beckett reasoned.
“Before I put his name on the list, I said, ‘Are you going to score a penalty shot for me?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I will, coach.”
“Tough spot to put a 14-year-old kid in who’s had a tough season due to injury,” Beckett added.
“Part of me takes the blame for going away from what I had written down coming into today’s game, but sometimes you’ve got to play with your gut and it didn’t work out for me today,” he admitted.
Beckett made another switch for the penalty kicks, inserting two-year keeper Jameson Shortreed—who was playing out this year—in to face the Eagles’ shooters.
“It’s a tough spot for him to be thrown in net after playing 100 minutes of soccer, no warm-up or anything, I just thought he did an outstanding job,” lauded Beckett.
Beckett noted Shortreed hadn’t totally shunned goalkeeping, taking opportunities in practice to stop some shots.
“In practice and before practice, when the kids are warming up, they goof around a bit and you can see that he’s probably the clear-cut shot-stopper of the three keepers.
“[Being a] keeper is not just about stopping shots, that’s just one part of it, but it’s something that he does very well,” Beckett added.
“He’s used to the pressure, playing with the [Fort Frances] Lakers and seeing 50, 60 shots a night, those kinds of things.”
DePiero agreed Shortreed was well-suited for the task, but Dryden’s shooters managed to get the winner past him.
“With his size, he’s a good shot-stopper,” DePiero explained. “He made the right moves.
“Their kickers did well, our kickers did well, and it came down to the last kick, and they made the shot,” he reasoned.
While the wind can play a role in a game’s outcome, Beckett said Fort High tried to approach the game so they would downplay any gusty effects.
“It does play a factor and it really depends on the style of play your team has,” he stressed. “We play the ball on the ground a lot more, and play quick and possession-type soccer.
“For us, it doesn’t have quite the same effect offensively as it might for some other teams.
“Defensively, it makes it tough,” Beckett added.
“They [Dryden] have a couple of kids that are just super-fast, and to have a wind like that, they can just put it up in the air and let those guys try to run under it,” he noted.