Muskie boys win border battle

What a difference a week can make.
Last Tuesday night, Muskie boys’ hockey coach Shane Bliss stood outside his team’s dressing room fuming after a 5-2 win over the Ely Timberwolves.
Despite the win, Bliss was irate with what he felt was a lacklustre effort from his charges.
Fast forward to last night. Bliss, standing in the same corridor outside the Muskie change room, was quietly pleased after a workmanlike 4-1 exhibition victory over the visiting International Falls Broncos.
“I was much happier with the effort tonight,” he commented.
“I knew we had to be consistent,” he added. “We’ve been consistent all year but last week’s effort put some doubt in my mind.”
The black-and-gold went back to playing the same brand of hockey versus the Falls Broncos that has served them well all season long—take the body, forecheck hard, and score goals by having players create traffic in front of the opponent’s net.
Both teams came out skating and looking to establish a physical presence to start the game.
The highlight of what was a fast-paced and spirited opening period of play came late in the frame when defenceman Brian Glavish caught a Bronco forward with his head down just inside the Muskie blueline.
Glavish’s clean hit sent the Bronco attacker sprawling and incited a loud cheer from the hometown fans, who comprised nearly two-thirds of the crowd packed into Ice for Kids Arena to watch the game between the border rivals.
But while the Muskies held a slight edge in hits, they could not solve Bronco goalie Brady Hjelle, who turned aside all 12 shots he faced to keep the game scoreless after one.
The Muskies wasted little time breaking the deadlock in the second period.
Just 19 seconds into the frame, Glavish fired a shot from the point that sailed high over the Bronco net. The rebound came straight off the end boards and onto Taylor Jorgenson’s stick.
Hjelle stopped Jorgenson’s quick shot, but could not re-set himself in time to keep George Halverson from netting the second rebound and the Muskies took a 1-0 lead.
Fort High doubled their lead minutes later when Glavish stopped a Bronco clearing attempt at the Falls’ blueline and quickly sent teammates Joe Basaraba and Matt McLellan back in on a two-on-one rush.
Basaraba drew Hjelle to his side before feathering a perfect backhand pass over to McLellan, who deposited the puck into the yawning cage for the 2-0 lead.
McLellan scored his second of the period following a draw in the Bronco zone. Blake Wepruk won the face-off cleanly and got the puck to Basaraba, who fired a quick shot on net.
Hjelle made the initial stop but McLellan—skating hard to the net—pounced on the rebound and scored to make it 3-0 Muskies.
The Falls responded with a goal as the buzzer sounded to end the frame to cut the Muskie lead to 3-1 after two periods of play.
The black-and-gold sealed the victory in the third period courtesy McLellan’s third goal of the game.
Hjelle stopped drives from both Cody McCool and Basaraba, but could not keep McLellan from netting the rebound to seal the 4-1 victory.
McLellan’s stand-out performance was ironic given he wasn’t even expected to play last night. He had suffered a head injury against Ely here last Tuesday and wasn’t due back until later this month.
However, a quick recovery and an injury to Matt Hebert in Friday night’s 3-0 win in Red Lake Falls meant McLellan was back in the Muskie lineup last night.
“I thought I played pretty well coming off a pretty serious injury,” McLellan said after the game.
The Muskie forward admitted he was nervous stepping onto the ice for his first shift, but felt more comfortable as the game went on.
The black-and-gold have been plagued by a string of injuries lately. Kyle Turgeon was the latest Muskie to go down after he collided knee-on-knee with a Falls Bronco defender late in the third period last night.
Turgeon was helped off of the ice and will be re-evaluated later this week.
“I don’t know the severity of the injury,” Bliss remarked. “I hope it’s not bad as he’s a big part of this team.”
Fortunately, the Muskies have several days to get healthy as their next game isn’t until next Tuesday (Dec. 19) when they travel to Kenora to take on the Broncos in NorWOSSA action.