Muskies boys claim ‘B’ title in Duluth

For a moment, the Muskie boys’ hockey squad had their hearts in their mouths. Then the referee decided to let them taste victory, instead.
David Pierce’s goal on the black-and-gold’s fifth chance gave Fort High a 2-1 shootout victory over the Hudson (Wis.) Raiders in the consolation final of the Hilltopper Holiday Classic in Duluth last Wednesday (Dec. 30).
Pierce made a quick move in close on the Raiders’ goalie and flipped a backhander just underneath the crossbar. But the main man in stripes gave the Muskies cause for uncertainty, hesitating slightly before signalling the goal counted.
“It was certainly a delayed reaction, but [Pierce] heard it clank off the crossbar and still thought it was in,” said Muskie head coach Shane Bliss. “There was a little controversy on the play.
“We figured we’d bail off the ice before the referee decided to change his mind,” Bliss added.
Pierce, who had scored on a power play with just 3:30 left in regulation time to tie the game after unknowingly redirecting Jake Esselink’s point shot, has been up among the team’s leaders in goal scoring all year.
His winning effort came right after Mike Niskala had scored to pull the Muskies even in the shootout.
“After [team scoring leader] Steven Sus missed on our first shootout chance, I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’” recalled Bliss. “Then Terry Kellar missed, and Tyler Miller after him. There goes three pretty talented shooters.
“But [Niskala] and [Pierce] pulled it out for us.”
The Muskies had a less than auspicious start to the weekend as they were dumped 7-1 by the host Duluth-Marshall Hilltoppers in their opening game.
“We didn’t come to play,” Bliss said bluntly. “We were flat, and we weren’t moving our feet well. I don’t know if we gave them too much respect.
“Everything we did wrong came back to bite us,” he recalled.
The Hilltoppers struck for three goals in the first, including two just 1:23 apart, and then built a 4-0 lead 16 seconds into the second before Greg Flewelling cashed in on a Muskie power play to break their scoreless drought.
But Duluth-Marshall didn’t panic and hit paydirt again 21 seconds into the third before adding two more to round out the scoring (the Hilltopper goal scorers were unavailable at press time).
Not wanting a repeat of their earlier troubles, the Muskies regrouped to thump the Simley Spartans (Inver Grove Heights, Mn.) 7-2 on the strength of a five-goal outburst by Sus.
“We moved the puck better than ever and took it to them,” said Bliss, who reunited Sus and Niskala as linemates with extremely positive results. “Steven was burying every chance he got.
“I talked to a few of the players after the first game and let them know they could play better than they did,” Bliss added. “Steven stepped up big time in that game.”
Kellar and Sus tallied in the first, but the Spartans found the back of the net behind Muskie goalie Jason Green twice in 1:17 early in the second to tie the contest.
Fort High stormed back, however, with Kurtis Wepruk putting them out in front again at 6:53 of the second and Sus picking up two more goals before the period’s end.
With Niskala at his play-making best (four assists in the game), Sus rubbed more salt in the Spartans’ wounds with another pair of markers in the third period.
Two of his five goals came with the man advantage, with the Muskies netting three power-play goals in total that game.
The Muskies’ next tournament action is this week at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg for the sixth-annual Winnipeg High School Hockey League Tournament of Champions.
The eight-team tournament, which runs today through Sunday, features four Winnipeg schools and Fort High, as well as teams from Calgary, Carman, Man., and Windsor, N.S.
The Maritime reps from King’s Edgehill School will be the Muskies’ first test tomorrow (Thursday) at 2:30 p.m.