The Muskie boys’ hockey team briefly looked as if it was in danger of dropping two games in a row for the first time this season.
But after trailing the Kittson Central Bearcats 1-0 after the first period of Saturday afternoon’s exhibition game here, the black-and-gold exploded for six goals in the second period en route to a 7-1 victory.
The win was a rebound from Fort High’s first loss in NorWOSSA play—a 6-4 setback in Kenora last Tuesday night.
Muskie head coach Shawn Jourdain said playing a game that didn’t count in the standings was a welcome opportunity to get back on track.
“It just gave us a chance to work on the things we needed to work on,” he reasoned.
“The effort wasn’t there in the first period, but we came through in the second and third,” Jourdain added.
“We had a little chat, and we just had to get our work ethic back.”
Jourdain noted the Broncos finally put up the type of game he knows they’re capable of playing after the black-and-gold won the first three meetings of the season between the two squads.
“Kenora out-worked us,” he stressed. “They played well, a heck of a hockey game.
“They gave us what I expected out of them. Our first two games, I don’t think they did,” he remarked, adding Kenora should be a tough opponent the rest of the way.
“We went in there and just expected them to give us the game,” agreed Muskie defenceman Tyson McLean.
“They came out strong, and we weren’t expecting that.”
Things started slowly for the Muskies on Saturday as Kittson netted the lone goal of the first period.
Bearcats’ captain Markus Dahl was given time to chip at the puck in front of Muskie goalie Devin Stromness and eventually knocked it into the net.
The first period also proved to be a parade to the penalty box, with Fort High taking three of its five minor penalties in the opening stanza.
The black-and-gold came through early in the second when, deep in his own zone, McLean found Nick Jourdain left wide open at the Kittson blueline during a poor Bearcat change.
Jourdain cruised in and beat Jackson Klein blocker side to even the game at 1-1.
It then took the Muskies just 30 seconds to claim the lead as Nick Kaun deposited a Brendan Cawston rebound.
After McLean scored an impressive goal, dangling through the Kittson defence before wristing a shot blocker side, Ryan Lundy stole the puck while the Muskies were shorthanded and fired one to a similar spot at 8:41.
Lundy’s marker prompted a goalie change, but Tucker Cosley initially fared no better as Robbie Rea welcomed him to the game with a deke on a breakaway just 29 seconds later.
Rea’s goal also came shorthanded.
Jourdain later notched his second of the game on the power play when he pounced on his own rebound and roofed the puck past Cosley at 11:54.
He then completed the hat trick with another power-play goal just 56 seconds into the third, banging the puck home from in front of Cosley.
Stromness had to make just seven saves. Klein made 11 for Kittson while Cosley stopped 19 during his stint between the pipes.
McLean has been one of the pillars of strength on the back end early in the season as the Muskies try to make up for the loss of captain Jamie Kaun from last year’s team.
Paired with big rookie Tarryn Romyn, the duo provide a challenge in the defensive zone for opposing forwards.
“He’s been very solid back there,” Jourdain said of McLean. “He tends to jump into holes just at the right time, and that’s why he’s getting all these scoring chances.
“Between him and Tarryn, they’re a couple of big kids with some skill and they’re a good pair together,” he added.
McLean, a second-year Muskie, acknowledged he didn’t come out quite as quickly as he might have hoped to start the season, but has started to settle into a groove.
“I expected to come out a lot stronger. But as I got into a few more games, I got a bit better,” he remarked.
“I’ll hopefully get better from here, too.
“It feels good being one of the bigger guys out there,” McLean added. “It helps out a lot on the power play.”
The Muskies are back in action next Monday (Dec. 27) when they open the annual Hilltopper Holiday Classic tournament in Duluth against Edgewood (Madison, Wis.).
Fort High nipped Edgewood 3-2 in a shootout at last year’s event while the Crusaders earned a 4-3 win back in 2007 when they won the tourney title.
Jourdain knows the Crusaders, among other challenges, will provide an excellent test for the
“That’s good hockey. I’m looking forward to that,” he enthused.
“It’s going to be quick. We’ll have to have our effort there,” he warned.
“Edgewood’s always a very strong team, always a big team.”
If the Muskies get past Edgewood, Jourdain expects to play Marshall (Duluth), a team Fort High hasn’t faced.
The black-and-gold then will take on the host International Falls Broncos in an exhibition game Jan. 4.
The squad won’t see action at the Ice For Kids Arena until Jan. 18, when St. Thomas Aquinas (Kenora) visits for a 7:15 p.m. start.