Muskie boys set to host playoff opener against Kenora

Shane Bliss is old school.
Munching on fries at the A&W restaurant, which seems to always be the food stop on the way home after every game in Kenora, the head coach of the Muskie boys’ hockey team reminisced on his playing days with the black-and-gold.
He recalled one time after a game in Kenora when the Muskies lost 8-0. Then head coach Terry Ogden, who heard some giggling on the bus, flipped on the lights and proceeded to ream out the players in a manner akin to the way the Captain (Strother Martin) addressed Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) in “Cool Hand Luke”—“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. . . .”
“I still remember what he said. I remember that I was shaking after he was finished. After all of these years, I still remember,” said Bliss, who is the only Muskie player to be part of two all-Ontario gold-medal teams (1986 and ’89).
Bliss—hailing from a time when Muskie hockey was the Alpha and Omega of Fort Frances—always is critical of his players and their actions. He expects the best because the best was expected from him.
And though the Muskies won 5-3 in Kenora on Monday night to close out the NorWOSSA regular season in second place with a 12-4-1-1 record, Bliss still was perturbed with the team’s play.
“This game meant a lot to the coaches, but I don’t think it sunk into the kids’ heads to be honest with you,” Bliss said of his players, who open the best-of-three NorWOSSA semi-finals against those same Broncos here this Friday night.
“We told them that it is a very important game,” he added. “It doesn’t change anything in the standings, but they’re coming into our rink to start the playoffs and we don’t want to give them any momentum.
“You want them to be dreading that trip to Fort Frances come Friday and I don’t think we made them worry about coming to Fort Frances,” Bliss warned. “I think they’re looking forward to it now.”
Despite missing three defenceman in Jordan Bale, Brett Perreault, and Kevin Plett, who were resting up for the playoffs, the Muskies still dominated Monday night’s game offensively—firing 47 shots at the Kenora goal while the Broncos managed only 14 shots on Dedrik Brueggeman.
But that didn’t mean much to Bliss.
“We’ve got to bury the puck. If you get those chances, you’ve got to score,” he stressed. “You can’t shoot it over the net, you can’t shoot it at the goalie’s gut pad, and you’ve got to be there for the rebound and cause traffic in front.
“We don’t, and that’s the difference between having success and not,” Bliss added. “You get in those tighter games and you can’t bury the puck, then those things are going to bury you.”
Matt Redford opened the scoring for the Muskies on a wicked slapshot during a power play in the first period, assisted by Tyler Miller/Jake Esselink.
Josh Sigurdson then made it 2-0 in the second on an elusive wraparound during another Muskie power play. Lucas Romaniuk drew the assist.
After Kenora cut the lead to 2-1, Miller scored a highlight reel goal unassisted.
Once again on the power play, Miller skated into Kenora’s zone and proceeded to drift right. He then cut left through two Bronco players, brought himself to a quick halt, and roofed a wrist shot to make the score 3-1.
Brian White added to the lead early in the third period when his shot found the back of the net through a maze of players, with Esselink and Tyler Pocock drawing assists.
But Kenora would not roll over. They scored just 20 seconds later, then drew to within 4-3 with a power-play tally later in the period.
The Muskies held on, however, with Romaniuk capitalizing on a Bronco turnover and netting the insurance tally to preserve the win. Andrew Easton and Sigurdson had the assists.
On paper, the Muskies are the better of the two teams heading into the semi-finals against Kenora.
They have a better regular-season record, including a 5-1 mark versus the Broncos, and were undefeated in their last four NorWOSSA games—the final three of which were on the road (including a 5-4 win against the first-place Eagles last Thursday night and then a 10-1 romp over Red Lake on Friday).
So expectations are high.
“I don’t think they’re focused [on Kenora], but I don’t they’re looking too far ahead [to Dryden, who faces Red Lake in the other semi-final],” said Bliss. “Sometimes I just think they’re not thinking.
“They go out there and they work hard, but they have nothing to show for it after,” he added. “But they know what’s at stake here.”
Game 2 will be played Sunday at 8:30 p.m., which will be latest game the Muskies have played all season long. In fact, Bliss is concerned Kenora is taking the “home-ice advantage” term to the extreme.
“I looked at the clock tonight [Monday] and it was almost nine o’clock when we started the third period,” he noted. “[On Sunday], we will be partly through the first period and that’s late.
“I honestly think something should be done about that, especially on a school night, where we play no later than 7:30 p.m.”
Bliss noted the arena already was booked for a 6 p.m. game involving St. Thomas Aquinas. But he heard there was another reason for the late start for Sunday’s game.
“Kenora apparently has some boys that need to see some monster truck show in Winnipeg and they have to wait until they all get home, and that’s pretty bad reasoning for that,” he remarked.
Game 3, if necessary, would be played back here next Tuesday night (March 1) starting at 7:15 p.m.