Muskies boys headed to all-Ontarios Swept Eagles in league final

The roller-coaster ride that was the NorWOSSA playoffs ended on a high for the Muskie boys’ hockey team as they clinched their third league title in four years with a win over the host Dryden Eagles on Sunday.
After a sloppy, albeit successful, start to the post-season, the black-and-gold stepped up their game and swept the best-of-three NorWOSSA final with a pair of hard-fought victories over the Eagles.
The strong showing helped allay the worries of the Muskie coaching staff, who had feared the team might get off to a slow start given their sub-par performance against the Kenora Broncos in the semi-finals.
“I was really worried coming into this series,” head coach Shane Bliss admitted following Sunday’s series clinching win.
“I thought we really stepped up and played a good two games of hockey,” he added. “We couldn’t get the puck to go in as easy as in the Kenora series, which is to be expected when you run into a little bit better of a hockey team and a hot goalie.
“We came to play,” Bliss continued. “We got a lot of chances. We didn’t put them in, but you have to be doing something right to get those chances.
“I was worried we wouldn’t get those chances and that we’d be back on our heels, and it would take us a period or two to get woken up.
“We were ready to go and I was happy to see that.”
The Muskies got the jump on the Eagles with a workmanlike 4-2 victory in the opening game of the series Friday night at the Ice for Kids Arena here.
Then they clinched the NorWOSSA title with a gutsy 3-2 double-overtime victory up in Dryden on Sunday.
“We knew what had to be done, and we just had to go out there and do it,” Muskie captain Ryan Witherspoon remarked.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy to shut them out,” he added. “Actually, we knew we weren’t going to shut them out, especially [in Dryden]. We just came out and picked up our game.”
While the overall Muskie performance was good, there were three areas in which the team excelled.
The Muskies re-focused their attention on the physical component of the game—something that had been a hallmark of the squad all season but which was sorely lacking against the Broncos.
“I was watching the game film of the last game and I couldn’t believe how many checks we actually did finish because sometimes you don’t really notice it,” Bliss said after Sunday’s game in Dryden.
“I thought we did a good job and I wanted to continue that because I think if you get on guys and wear them down, they are susceptible to turning the puck over.
“It was a pretty tough series as far as hitting goes.”
The second area in which the Muskies excelled was on special teams—specifically the penalty kill. The black-and-gold surrendered just one goal in 12 short-handed opportunities.
And while their power play only scored two goals in nine chances, the Muskies did sustain pressure in the offensive zone and had several quality scoring opportunities.
“We did do a pretty good job,” Bliss said of the Muskies’ performance on special teams.
“We have a great penalty kill,” he stressed. “I wish that our power play was as effective, but we got another power-play goal tonight [Sunday] which was a big one.
“You just have to keep things in perspective,” Bliss reasoned. “You can’t score every power play and you probably won’t kill every penalty off, but if we can continue at the rate we’re going on the penalty kill, I’ll be pretty happy.”
The third area in which the Muskies performed at a very high level might have been the most important factor in their sweep of the Eagles.
Muskie goalie David Moen rebounded from a shaky start to the post-season and was very solid when called upon.
“David was solid again in the pipes for us,” Bliss enthused. “He did a great job for us.
“I think Richie [Wieringa] would have done a great job, too. It’s hard when you pick one, but you kind of want to pick one and ride him and let him have a chance to get hot and get on a roll.
“I thought in that last series [against Kenora], nobody was as focused as they should have been and that was from our forwards right through to our goalies.
“It was nice to see that David responded and came back to play.”
Moen admitted his confidence had taken a hit following his shaky play versus the Broncos. But he regrouped in practice and once again is riding the high accompanied with winning.
“I’m feeling just great,” he said following Sunday’s win. “There was a lot of work being done at the practices and to put forth an effort like that for this game is just awesome.
“It’s right back up there,” he said of his confidence.
“In the Kenora series, it was getting pretty low but after these two games, it’s right back up there again. I’m feeling pretty good going into OFSAA.”
With the NorWOSSA crown under their belts, the Muskies now will shift their attention to preparing for the all-Ontarios on March 21-24 in Oshawa.
Witherspoon stressed the rookie-laden team—only eight of 22 players suited up last year—will need to be at their best if they are to compete for a championship at the next level.
“The new guys can expect a much tougher challenge because the teams are all great down there,” he said. “If you make one mistake, they are going to bury a goal on you.
“I think we could do it if we play our game,” Witherspoon added. “It’s going to be tough but I think we have a chance.”
< *c>Game 1
The Muskies did not get off to an ideal start in the opening game against the Eagles on Friday night in front of the hometown fans.
Dryden assistant captain Adam Bryck opened the scoring just past the midway point of the first period, beating Moen to give his team a 1-0 lead.
The Eagles’ advantage would not last until the intermission, though, as Joe Basaraba took a feed from Pat Bobczynski and gained the Dryden zone. He then threw on the brakes and found a streaking Kevin Bobczynski going to the net.
The latter made a move to his backhand and roofed a shot top corner that beat Eagles’ standout goalie Curtis Lambkin high and to the glove side to tie the game at 1-1.
The Muskies grabbed their first lead just past the halfway mark of the second period on a defensive miscue by the Eagles.
Mitch Green sent George Halverson into the Dryden zone and both defenders converged on him. Halverson smartly dished the puck to Zach McCool, who walked in alone and fired a snap shot past Lambkin on the stick side.
Leading 2-1 after two, Fort High put to bed any hope of a Dryden comeback early in the third period.
After Riley Caul won a draw deep in the Eagles’ zone and fed it back to Zach McCool, the Muskie forward wasted little time wiring a shot that found its way through a maze of players and into the top corner behind Lambkin.
Witherspoon then sealed the victory with his playoff-leading eighth goal.
Lambkin stopped a drive from the point by Pat Bobczynski but Taylor Jorgenson and Witherspoon jammed away at the rebound until the Muskie captain was able to slide the puck home.
Dryden would score a late power-play goal, but it was too little, too late as the Muskies skated to the 4-2 win and 1-0 series lead.
< *c>Game 2
The Muskies made the familiar trip up Highway 502 on Sunday looking to close out the series and punch their ticket to the all-Ontarios.
The first period got off to a physical start as both teams threw thunderous body checks looking to establish a physical edge. Muskie assistant captain Kyle Turgeon had the best scoring chances of the opening 20 minutes but could not beat Lambkin.
The Dryden goalie first stopped him on a one-timer from point-blank range, then made a great reactionary save on a Turgeon deflection to keep the game scoreless.
The Muskies finally broke through midway through the second period while on the power play.
Witherspoon won a draw cleanly in the Dryden zone and fed it back to Pat Bobczynski. The Muskie defender then worked the puck to his defence partner, Mike McCaig, who unleashed a blast that found its way through a screen and past Lambkin.
The black-and-gold then came out hard in the third period looking to salt the game away.
They were rewarded for their hard work when Kevin Bobczynski intercepted a weak clearing attempt, walked into the high slot, and unloaded a shot that beat Lambkin high and to the glove side.
The Muskies appeared to have the game well in hand with a two-goal lead and just over 10 minutes left in regulation time.
Looking for a break, the Eagles finally got one when the rebound from a Shawn DeGagne shot accidentally was kicked past Moen by Muskie defender Dustin Brown.
The goal sparked the Eagles and minutes later, DeGagne found Matt Bartlett streaking down the left wing. Bartlett gained the Muskie zone and wired a shot off the far post and in to tie the game at 2-2.
Neither team was able to break the deadlock during regulation time and so it was off to overtime.
The Muskies came out flying in the first extra session and completely dominated play, but Lambkin proved unbeatable as he turn aside a bevy of drives.
With nothing resolved after 20 additional minutes of play, it was off to a second overtime.
The Eagles came out harder in the second overtime and generated some scoring chances of their own, but Moen rose to the challenge—making several key stops.
The marathon finally ended when Kevin Bobczynski forced a turnover in the Dryden zone, walked into the slot, and fired a shot past Lambkin five-hole to give the Muskies the 3-2 win and NorWOSSA gold.
“That was a pretty good pick-up for us in the long run,” Bliss said of Kevin Bobczynski, a late-season addition who had started the season in Thunder Bay before moving back here in January.
“I think we probably played him more when he was here last year, but he played a regular shift and had two big goals for us.
“I’ve been bugging him [Bobczynski] about going five-hole because he’s been shooting the puck over the net a lot of time.
“I told him the five-hole has been open, not so much in this series but in the last series, and when it went in the five-hole, the first thing he came and said to me was, ‘You know what, coach, that one was in the five hole.’”
But while Bobczynski was happy to score the game-winner, he was more focused on the team’s accomplishment.
“It’s really good,” he said of the win. “I get to go down to OFSAA again.
“I had fun in Grade 9 when we went down to Windsor,” he noted. “Now we get to go down to Oshawa and it should be fun.”