Muskies open camp without a league

The Muskies are eagerly awaiting word from a meeting of Winnipeg high school football coaches this Saturday that will determine if the black-and-gold will be allowed to play an exhibition schedule against them.
The Muskies hit the field at Westfort today in preparation for a season that will come down to a makeshift lineup of exhibition games due to the cancellation of the NorWOSSA league.
With both Dryden and Kenora postponing the start of their training camps last week due to stalled contract talks between high school teachers and the Keewatin-Patricia school board, Muskie head coach Bob Swing had been busy trying to contact teams to play in Manitoba and the States.
One option would have the Muskies play exhibition games against teams in the Winnipeg High School League.
They also will look at facing teams from Minnesota and North Dakota, Swing said, which would mean playing under American rules against much more formidable opponents.
“We’ll have to play against teams that are seven times better and play by different rules but I don’t think our guys will mind,” he noted last week.
The Muskies will open their exhibition schedule as planned at noon on Saturday Aug. 29 when they host the St. Paul’s Crusaders of Winnipeg, who edged the black-and-gold 31-28 there last year.
The black-and-gold then are slated to take on International Falls the following Friday at 7 p.m. at Bronco Stadium.
But after that, the schedule is anyone’s guess.
< *c>Brimming with talent
While the Muskies can’t control what happens off the field, they can control the talent they put on it. And Swing said he expects this year’s squad to be just as competitive as the ones that captured the last two NorWOSSA titles.
In fact, while the team lost several key players due to graduation and academic eligibility, the coaches remain confident they have quality players ready to step in and fill the void.
“We have about half of our starters back from last year, which may have some people say ‘Holy moly that’s quite a loss,’ but all of our kids played significant minutes last year so I’m not too worried,” said Swing.
Gone this year are team MVP Joel Grimard, starting quarterback Jon Caul, dominating offensive lineman Bill Crewson, and other top players in Justin Nick, Jamie Carlson, Pete Moen, Joe Sinclair, and Jeff McFayden.
The Muskies also lost three of their four starting receivers in Mike Canfield, Gary Wagner, and Mike Noonan, which, with the promotion of backup QB Gary Wager as the club’s starting pivot, may force the black-and-gold to rely heavily on their running game to control the ball this year.
But that shouldn’t be a problem with Terry LaBelle, last year’s leading rusher and scorer, back for another season in the backfield along with Dana Preston.
“With LaBelle and Preston, it makes it easier on our new receivers and Wager,” said Swing, adding he feels the team will have more speed than in previous years.
“But with Gary, we have a guy who has a strong arm, who is a good athlete,” he added. “And while he may not be as elusive as [Caul] was, you have to remember he is another year older and much bigger than last year.”