Muskies strike OFSAA gold

Cameron Penney

OTTAWA—Although no one knew it at the time, the game between the fifth-ranked Muskie boys’ hockey team and the No. 18 Frontenac Falcons (Kingston) on the opening morning of the OFSAA ‘A/AA’ championship in Ottawa last week proved to be a battle of juggernauts.
The Falcons seemingly upset the Muskies by a score of 5-3—and used the momentum to carry themselves all the way to a bronze-medal finish later in the tournament.
The black-and-gold, meanwhile, found themselves needing to win their final three round-robin games for a chance to advance in the playoff round.
Well, the pressure fuelled the Muskies to six-straight wins and their first gold medal at OFSAA since 2001.
After losing that opening game, Fort High was able to bounce back in their second one the following morning.
The Muskies jumped out to a three-goal lead, then held on for a 3-2 victory over the General Amherst Bulldogs (Amherstburg).
“[W]e played well, did our jobs, and everything seemed to fall into place,” Muskie forward Graeme Kitt said after the team’s first win.
The Muskies then faced the third-seeded Saint Michael’s Mustangs (Niagara Falls) but the expected stiff competition fizzled.
Fort High trounced the Mustangs 7-0, which would prove vital later on in the tournament.
After that big win, Muskie coach Jamie Davis was pleased with the effort from his squad.
“Nineteen guys in the room answered the bell, plain and simple,” he stressed.
“We played well,” he added. “It’s a big win for us, no doubt.”
The Muskies then cruised to a 10-4 win over the St. Joseph Jaguars (Ottawa) in their final pool game last Wednesday morning to finish at 3-1 and advance to the quarter-finals that afternoon.
Facing the Lockerby Vikings (Sudbury), Fort High won by a 3-0 score to give themselves a chance to play for a medal the following day.
“We didn’t give them [the Vikings] many opportunities, if any,” Davis noted after the game.
“And ‘Oz’ [Muskie goalie Dylan Ossachuk] was there to make the stops when we needed him to.”
The opportunity to have the chance to play for a medal felt surreal to most Muskies.
“It feels absolutely unbelievable,” Kitt said of the quarter-final win.
“But we don’t want to settle—we want a gold,” he stressed.
The resiliency of the team continued to pay off when Fort High hung on for a 3-2 win over the St. Joseph’s Panthers (Cornwall) and advance to the gold-medal game.
“It’s big time,” Muskie coach Jamie Davis said after the team advanced to the final.
“I don’t know how else to say it.
“It means a lot for everybody—for ‘Kenno,’ for the kids, for their parents, for the school, for our community, for our league,” he added.
Then in the gold-medal game against the Silverthorn Collegiate Institute Spartans (Etobicoke) last Thursday afternoon, it took only 14 seconds for the Muskies to get on the scoreboard.
Cooper Witherspoon cleaned up a rebound of Nick Hahkala’s initial shot to open the scoring.
The Spartans answered with a goal of their own, albeit controversial, with nine minutes to go in the first period.
Fort High argued the puck never crossed the line but instead hit the post and went out.
The goal stood—although video later surfaced online from the broadcast of the game that proved the Muskies’ contention.
The line of Hahkala, Witherspoon, and Sullivan Shortreed were not discouraged, however, and scored two more goals for the Muskies before the period ended.
In the second period, Fort High rallied around the loss of Kitt, who was given a five-minute penalty and game misconduct for a check to the head.
The Muskies were able to kill off the penalty and preserve their two-goal lead.
With just under four minutes left in regulation time, the Spartans beat Ossachuk to pull within one.
Silverthorn then pulled its goalie in an effort to net the equalizer, but Cameron Gushulak sent the puck into the empty net with 70 seconds to go to secure the gold medal.
It marked Fort High’s first OFSAA medal since the team last won gold back in 2001.
After the game, plenty of the players were at a loss for words.
“Unbelievable, man, it’s surreal,” Gushulak said with a gold medal slung around his neck.
“It hasn’t even settled in yet.
“The beginning of the year, I never would have thought we’d come this far and achieve this,” he enthused.
“And it’s just amazing.”
Sam Tibbs, a returning player after graduating last year, looked back at not just this season but his entire Muskie career while celebrating with teammates.
“I’m so happy to be a part of this organization and all the years we put in together,” he remarked.
“[We came] together at times when maybe we weren’t having the best practices or the best games,” Tibbs recalled.
“Times when guys were down and we hit a bump in the road, but in the end it all works out.
“You just got to thank so many people but there’s no one you can thank more than each other,” Tibbs added.
“That’s who we play for—we play for each other, most importantly,” he stressed.
The Muskies had about two dozen supporters in the stands for every game throughout the tournament.
Parents drove to Ottawa for OFSAA while family members who reside in the area, as well as former Fort High students currently studying in Ottawa, came out to see the games.
“I was so excited when the boys told me they were coming to Ottawa for OFSAA that I knew I had to go watch some of the games,” said Carleton University student and former Muskie Sierra Cousineau.
“I’m not used to being in the stands so now I get what the parents go through,” she reasoned.
“When we heard the boys were in the finals, we went and bought air hours to blow when the Muskies scored,” Cousineau added.
“Once they won, I felt like everyone in Fort Frances won in some way.”
While watching the gold-medal game from the stands, Muskie parent Pete Drouin couldn’t help but think about the “culmination of the entire year’s efforts in this final game.”
“It’s good for the boys, good of the young players, and the senior players,” he noted.
“It’s good for the players that are leaving.”
Fort High will have the chance to defend its gold medal on home ice next year. But for now, the Muskies just are focused on savouring the gold medal they won this season.
“We’re going to enjoy the moment here and enjoy our time,” Davis said.
“These kids did a great job,” he added. “We’ll worry about next year when next year comes.”