Muskie boys shine in series with Kings

Joey Payeur

When the Muskie boys’ hockey team last was on the ice, it saw its dream of winning the OFSAA ‘A/AA’ championship on home ice dashed in heart-wrenching fashion.
This season’s edition of the black-and-gold has clear ambitions to erase the memories of that heartbreak–and they’re off to a good start in that regard.
Fort High had its strongest showing in recent memory in its traditional season-opening road trip against the Thunder Bay Minor Midget ‘AAA’ Kings, going undefeated over the weekend with a 2-0-1 record.
Considering the team has been swept the past two years on the same visit, Muskie head coach Jordan Sinclair is in high spirits about the season to come.
“To have had that group of 24 guys on the ice together only four times, I’m very happy and pleasantly surprised with how we played and the general togetherness of the players,” Sinclair noted.
“We went down there with the main intention of finalizing our roster and to get the guys a few games under their belts,” he added.
“The wins and losses were not that important,” Sinclair stressed. “But it’s nice to get the wins.”
The Muskies earned a 3-1 triumph in Friday’s opener, getting two goals from returning forward Cole Allan and one from veteran blueliner Jace Jackson.
On Saturday, Brett Kenny had the overtime winner in the second game–a 3-2 win for the Muskies–with veteran Jon Busch and rookie Jacob Grinsell also tallying.
Kenny then upped his game even further later that day, drilling home two goals, to go along with one from returnee James Gushulak, as the teams battled to a 3-3 tie.
Although somewhat small in stature, Kenny could be a big contributor to the Muskies’ fortunes in his sophomore season with the squad.
“Even for the top guys, there’s usually a period of adjustment in their first year,” Sinclair conceded.
“Brett has looked very comfortable right from the get-go of training camp [this season],” he added.
“He’s always been able to skate but he’s more confident with the puck now.
“He was a little hesitant to get going in the first game,” Sinclair noted. “But in the second, he really got going and used his skating to his advantage and got the game-winner.
“In the third game, he was that much more confident.
“For any team to have success, you need more out of your second- and third-year guys,” Sinclair stressed.
“It’s a big positive for us.”
The final Muskie roster features 12 veterans and eight newcomers.
Kenny, Allan, and Busch will be joined by fellow returning forwards Eric Pitkanen, Kendyn Faragher, Gushulak, Kaden Nelson, and Mikel Ward.
The rest of the lines will be filled out by rookies Cole Magill, Kaleb Bruyere, and Reed Bodnar, who will be expected to pitch in.
“We’ll see how it plays out,” said Sinclair.
“The guys who were here last year better understand how it goes and what it’s all about at this level,” he explained.
“But we threw the new guys into the fire from Day 1 and they didn’t hurt us but actually helped us.
“I’ve always said the guys that are going good are the guys who are going to play,” Sinclair reasoned.
“If you’re a third- or fourth-year player, it doesn’t matter,” he stressed.
“The young guys showed they could handle it.”
On defence, Jackson, along with Byron Stewart and Austin Armstrong, form a viable nucleus to the rearguard corps that will be rounded out by Grinsell, Connor Nelson, Jake Barker, and Dayton Labbe.
Grinsell, Nelson, and Barker all saw time as affiliate players with the Muskies last season.
“The three that played in those games last year will find it was very beneficial for them,” Sinclair noted.
“Barker played probably seven games with us and practised with us all last year, so he knows the ropes and how we like to do things.”
Between the pipes, Grade 11 Spencer Murphy will handle most of the load as the uncontested starter, with Grade 9 rookie Darian Klem serving as backup.
“I like ‘Murph’ a lot,” lauded Sinclair, who lost last year’s starter when Matt Booth decided to join the Kenora Thistles of the Manitoba ‘AAA’ Midget Hockey League this season.
“He’s very solid back there and very reliable.
“‘Klemmer’ will have to wait his turn, although we will get him in there,” noted Sinclair.
“Right now, ‘Murph’ is going to be the guy, for sure, although we did get ‘Klemmer’ into one game in Thunder Bay and he did a fantastic job.”
While departed forward Chase McGuire was the centrepiece to the Muskies’ offence last season, Sinclair anticipates a more communal approach to filling the net from this edition.
“Time will tell but I definitely think we will have to do it by committee,” he remarked.
“We’ve got a few guys that can put the puck in the net.
“I have a very strong belief in this team since from the beginning of training camp,” Sinclair continued.
“[But] we have a lot to work on and a long way to go to be considered a top contender.”
The Muskies are gunning for their 11th-straight NorWOSSA crown but Sinclair doesn’t plan to let his team get complacent in the face of that impressive run of success.
“You have to put in the work,” he stressed. “Ten years running doesn’t happen by fluke or mistake.
“There’s a lot of work and preparation that goes into that.
“The more you win, the more the other teams want to beat you,” Sinclair warned.
“We have to be prepared for the other team’s best every night, for sure,” he noted.
“We know what it’s going to take.”
The Muskies won’t play again until the Husky Classic tournament Oct. 19-22 in Winnipeg.
Then they’ll begin NorWOSSA play Nov. 14 at home against the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora).