Usually March Break means rest, relaxation, and possibly some fun in a warm locale for many students in Rainy River district.
Instead, it’s time for fine-tuning and hard work for the Muskie boys’ hockey team as it gets ready to head down to the provincial ‘AAA/AAAA’ showdown in Toronto on Saturday night.
The Muskies, who are seeded 13th in the 20-team field, will open action next Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. (EDT) when they take on the seventh-seeded Our Lady of Mount Carmel Crusaders (Mississauga).
“That first game is going to be the big one for the entire week,” Muskies coach Shawn Jourdain stressed.
“We have a long layoff here of around two weeks following the [NorWOSSA] final before we play an actual game, so we just need to make sure that the guys are focused and ready to go,” he reasoned.
The remaining round-robin schedule for the Muskies will see them take on the 12th-ranked St. Thomas of Villanova Wildcats (LaSalle) on Wednesday morning before squaring off against the top-ranked St. Mary’s Monarchs (Pickering) that afternoon.
“We know who they are, and we know for sure that St. Mary’s [is] always fast, but we’re more concerned about what we do than what they do,” Jourdain remarked.
Fort High then will wrap up pool play next Thursday morning against the 20th-ranked Holy Cross Crusaders (Kingston).
“For us, it’s just a matter of getting some pressure on our opponents and using our speed to our advantage,” Jourdain noted.
“We’re not the biggest team, but we never have been,” he added.
After just missing out on a quarter-final berth a year ago in St. Catharines due to their goal differential, despite finishing the round-robin with a 2-1-1 record, the black-and-gold will be looking to get into the “elite eight” this time around.
“It was kind of a bummer last year to be knocked out early because of not having enough goals,” Muskie forward Nick Kaun remarked.
“We’re just going to have to go out and play hard early, but also be smart at the same time,” he stressed.
“We can’t be over the top in our intensity, so we’ll have to keep our heads on straight, our nerves settled down, and just play our game,” he explained.
Kaun, making the trek to OFSAA for the second-straight year, is among the many senior players in the Muskie lineup that Jourdain will be keying on to help lead the way for some of his younger ones.
“It’s going to be a real eye-opener for them when they play in that first game,” Jourdain warned.
“It’s going to be a real fast game them for some of them, but I’m sure the second- and third-year players will tell the guys on the ride down just what to expect when they arrive in Toronto.”
Besides getting the players focused on the task at hand, Jourdain also has been working on getting Fort High’s special teams units running at full speed during their practice sessions since capturing the NorWOSSA title back on March 6.
“It’s something we’ve been working at all year, but it’s definitely going to be the key for success down there,” Kaun agreed.
“You need to have your power play and penalty kill working well if you want to be successful.
“And if our special teams play well down there, the better off we’ll be,” he reasoned.
But for Jourdain, who has been to the all-Ontarios with the Muskies as both a player and a coach, the biggest message he’ll have for his players it that they deserve a place among the top programs in the province.
“The biggest thing is just to tell them that ‘you belong here’ and not to be intimated by anybody,” Jourdain stressed.
“It doesn’t matter the name of the other school or the colour of their jersey,” he noted. “The guys worked hard to get here and we know that we belong here.”