Muskie boys let one ‘slip away’

What was the main different between tonight’s game and Tuesday’s game?
That was the question directed to Muskie boys’ hockey head coach Shane Bliss after his team’s 4-3 loss to host Kenora last Thursday, which had come on the heels of an easy 9-1 victory here two days earlier.
“Kenora,” responded Bliss, chuckling.
“I think Kenora was the main difference,” he added. “They were skating, they were forechecking, and they were working really hard and we didn’t meet that intensity.
“Kenora was a little bit lifeless on Tuesday [Dec. 14], but tonight they were the team they can be and will be more often, and we didn’t skate up to their level,” Bliss remarked.
“They simply wanted it more.”
It’s human nature to take a situation lightly after you’ve thoroughly dominated the scenario before, and that’s what seemed to happen to the Muskies.
They simply let human nature get in the way of their athletic thinking, which consists of an attitude, “Never take an opponent lightly—never let up.”
The game started out well enough for the Muskies, who welcomed Tyler Pocock back to the lineup as well as the arrival Brian Vargas, who played a solid game in his first wearing a Muskie jersey.
The black-and-gold were able to control the play, firing 13 shots at the Kenora goal while the Broncos managed just five.
But the black-and-gold only capitalized on one of those chances as Tyler Miller scored with just over a minute left in the period on a nifty goal that saw him streak towards the boards, after the puck had been dumped in, and fight off a Bronco defender to gain possession.
He then moved in front of the net and waited patiently for the Kenora goalie to fall to his knees in anticipation, And when he did, Miller buried the puck top shelf to make it 1-0.
The goal, assisted by Brian White, was his NorWOSSA-leading ninth of the season. It also tied him for the league lead in points (13).
After Kenora tied the score five minutes into the second period, the Muskies answered with some of nice plays, including a breakaway by David Pierce, but couldn’t hit the twine.
“We were over-anxious to score nine goals again and we went in too heavily,” confessed forward Justin Larson.
“It doesn’t matter how much you tell them—‘Boys, it will be a different team, boys, it will be a different team’—but in the back of their head, they’re still thinking, ‘Oh, we’ll win.’
“But that’s the team that I expected to see from Kenora,” Bliss added.
For his part, first-year Muskie goalie Wade Friesen did well in keeping his team in the game with some big stops, including a pad save on a Kenora breakaway later in the second.
But the Broncos’ persistence paid off when a turnover led to an odd-man rush that put Kenora up 2-1.
The Muskies even the score less than 30 seconds later when Pierce, on a 2-on-1 rush, found the trailing man in Brett Meyers, who proceeded to spin the Kenora goalie with a blast that found the top inside corner.
The Muskies then had another great scoring chance with about 40 second left in the period, but Miller couldn’t find the back of the net after a nice pass from Pierce on a 2-on-1.
“We outshot them probably two to one in that game, and we had our chances to score, but we never and when they had their chances, they [bore] down,” said Bliss, who saw his team take 34 shots while the Broncos had 23.
It was the Muskies who looked to be the more focused of the two teams as they started the third with a systematic forecheck that resulted in puck control and a numerous Kenora icings—but no goals.
“We didn’t run into a hot goalie,” said Bliss. “When we were picking corners, we were fine, but then we’d try too many dekes and then by the time you try to get a shot on net, then they have a stick on you and now you can’t get anything on it.”
The Broncos then took advantage of another untimely pinch by a Muskie defender, which led to a breakaway goal five minutes into the period.
The question now was how would the Muskies respond? Were they finished, or only getting started? Would they stand still, or carry on? Were they down for the count, or up for the challenge?
Those questions were answered with two-and-a-half minutes left in the game as Larson crashed the boards and gained control of the puck, then found a trailing Jake Esselink, who wired a slapshot glove side from 30 feet out.
“I just looped out of the corner and just passed it. He was just yelling and I heard him, so I just passed it to him,” recalled Larson, who has seven assists but no goals so far this season.
But the smiles didn’t last for long as a Muskie mistake in Kenora’s zone once again allowed a breakaway for the Broncos with 30 seconds left—and that was it.
“You’ve got to hit the net,” stressed Bliss. “If a guy takes a slapshot from 10 feet out and rims it all the way around, then that’s a breakout pass for them and that’s the game-winning goal because he picks it up at centre ice and he’s gone.”
The loss left the Muskies in second place in NorWOSSA with a 5-2-0-1 record—a game behind the Dryden Eagles.
The Muskies knew they had blown the game, which was evident in their reactions as they skated off the ice and into the dressing room.
Bliss followed but once inside, he didn’t stay long because he figured the team knew what they had did wrong and didn’t feel the need to escalate their feelings of discontent.
“I think they did outplay us overall in the three periods,” Bliss remarked. “We had flashes when we did outplay them, but it was few and far between, and just not enough consistency. . . .
“It’s too bad we had to lose heading into the [Christmas] break, but I’m not so worried about the loss as much I am with the standings because it’s going to hurt us there,” he added.
“You hate to lose one like this and let one slip away, and I think we let one slip away tonight,” Bliss said.
That sentiment was felt by the team, who will be heading to the Duluth Marshall tournament Dec. 27-29. They don’t resume NorWOSSA action again until early January.
“We know we can beat them [Kenora], we just got to stop doing all the little things wrong,” said Larson. “Play full periods and full games, and then we’ll win.
“It’s one of those games where we had it, but we just let it slip away, so now we need the points, for sure,” he added.
“When you look at, we didn’t move up in the standings from our win on Tuesday [Dec. 14] at all because we lost, so we’re just back in the same place,” Larson continued.
“So every game does count.”