Muskie girls lose regular-season finale

Never had a nothing game meant so much to the Muskie girls’ hockey team.
Still reeling from the removal of six players from their roster earlier Friday, and the roller-coaster of emotions surrounding that situation, the team easily could have felt like simply going through the motions in their regular-season finale that night Kenora—secure in the knowledge that first place already was locked up.
That didn’t happen. In fact, the opposite was true.
In what could be described as a true demonstration of character and resolve, the 12 remaining players on the roster stepped up, ran two lines and five defence, and never let down for a minute during the fast-paced contest.
The black-and-gold opened the scoring 4:03 into the first period on a brilliant effort by third-year winger Lauren Krukoski, who grabbed the puck and sped down the right side into the Bronco zone.
With no access to the slot, Krukoski circled behind the net, came up the left side to the blueline, circled back to the middle of the offensive zone, and then fired a hard 40-foot wrist shot low on to the blocker side.
Bronco goalie Amanda Kowalik made an acrobatic pad save, but Anikka McTavish gobbled up the rebound and slid it in for a 1-0 Muskie lead.
It didn’t last long, however. With Miranda Kellar and Krukoski in the penalty box and Kenora enjoying a 5-on-3 power play, Amanda Wolfe skated out of the right corner and unleashed a bullet from point-blank range.
The wrist shot eluded Muskie goalie Sarah Trendiak and tied the game at 1-1 at the 10:44 mark of the first period.
Just 50 second later, and mere moments after Krukoski had finished serving her minor penalty, burly Bronco defenceman Reagan Smith banged home a rebound during a goalmouth scramble to make it 2-1 (assisted by Sam Smith and Linnea Vaudry).
The host Broncos padded their lead four minutes later as the Muskies turned the puck over on a defensive zone breakout.
Bronco Erica Wayne, who was left all alone at the left side of the Muskie crease, took a pass from Julie Cain and flipped a backhand over a startled Trendiak for a 3-1 Kenora lead.
But Fort High stormed back less than three minutes later—cutting the lead to 3-2 on a great effort by Krukoski, Kellar, and Nina Bird.
Forechecking hard, the veteran forwards (with 10 years of Muskie play between them) worked the puck into the right corner, where a tic-tac-toe play (Kellar to Krukoski to Bird out front) resulted in a nifty top-shelf marker (Bird’s 17th goal of the season).
The second period saw the Broncos gallop out of the gate as they controlled play early, getting four quality scoring chances but being rebuffed every time by the sharp play of Trendiak.
Still, the Broncos increased their lead to 4-2 midway through the second as Reagan Smith struck for her second of the game (assisted by Julie Cain and Sam Smith).
Kenora then went up by three goals with just 1:35 left in the second period as rookie Erin Gasparini, with assists from Kelsey Craven and Rylee Meisner, snuck a seeing-eye wrist shot through a maze of players.
Seeming undaunted by the three-goal deficit, the Muskies came out flying in the third period and had their third goal of the game less than a minute in.
Controlling the puck deep in the Bronco zone, Muskie captain Lauren Pierce clamped down hard on a clearing attempt to the blueline and sent the puck back down low to McTavish in the left corner.
McTavish then turned and whipped a hard pass out front to Krukoski, who tipped it in to cut the lead to 5-3.
The pace rarely slowed in the third period, with the Muskies creating several glorious scoring chances but being denied each time by Kowalik.
With 2:28 to go, Wayne struck for her second of the game—another backhander—to make the final score 6-3 for Kenora.
Next up for the Muskies is their best-of-three semi-final series against the as yet undetermined NorWOSSA ‘A’ champs, which gets underway this Friday at 5 p.m. at the ’52 Canadians Arena here.
Game 2 will be hosted by the ‘A’ league winner on Sunday, with Game 3 (if necessary) back here on Tuesday (Feb. 26).
The winner then will meet the winner of the Kenora-Dryden semi-final series in the best-of-three NorWOSSA final.