The Fort Frances High School Muskies hockey season openers were delayed by weather in the Dryden area a few weeks ago. This time has given the teams a little extra time to work on their chemistry before the NORWOSSA season officially kicks off.
The Muskie boys kicked off their regular season with a 4-3 road win away to Red Lake last Saturday, and the Muskie girls opened their regular season last night (with a win?) in Sioux Lookout.
Both teams are working with new players on board.
The Muskie boys lost several of last year’s top players who helped the team to a NorWOSSA championship. Some players like defenseman Alex Booth, and forwards Callum McCormick and Jackson Tucker are playing with the U18 AAA Kenora Thistles. While others like Evan Kabel and Teagan Wrolstad are playing with the Fort Frances Lakers.
Muskie boys head coach Chris Sinclair is not calling it a rebuilding year because the team does have several returning players from the team that played in the all-Ontario championships last year.
“We have nine returning players that we’ll lean on for guidance and leadership,” Sinclair said. “These include forwards Ashton Veldhuisen, Klyde Laplante, Aiden Jean, Ashton Armstrong, and Niko Ruppenstein, along with defensemen Austin Mosbeck and Tarran Enge… Obviously we will be looking for some of these players to step up and fill the roles of some players that we lost, but also will be looking at some new faces who I think have potential to have really strong seasons with us.”
The team will also look to lean on experience between the pipes, with both goalies from last year, Karson Loughrey and Jarrett Aucoin, back in net.
Sinclair has filled out the squad with additions both old and young. With a pair of grade nine players in Max Hanson and Willem Kirk, newcomers in grade 10 in Aiden Loerzel, Trent Friesen and Racin Witherspoon, additions in grade 11 in Ozzy Hanson, Blake Kreger, and Griffin Webb, and two new grade 12 players, Jack Davis and Kalin Grennier.
The Muskie girls have added several younger players as well. Head coach Shane Bliss says he believes with some skilled new players and returning players with another year of experience under their belts.
“We have some new players this year that are quite talented,” Bliss said. “The returning players have that year of experience under their belts now which really goes a long way. So far, it’s been going pretty well.”
Ahead of the regular season the Muskie girls have played lots of exhibition games including hosting a home tournament and a weekend showcase. They came second in the tournament falling to the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints a shootout. They have traveled into the US to play against American teams as well. Bliss has been making an effort to help the team build chemistry as they all come from different hockey backgrounds.
“When you grow up in Minnesota, we find the toughest competition they grew up and they played together all the way through,” BIiss said. “In Canada we have so many different avenues to play hockey. We get girls that come in from girls house league, or boys house league or Emo house league or some from competitive boys so your team hasn’t really played together until you start getting them together.”
The Muskie girls have four grade nine players on the team this year, with Sienna Tom, Hannah Pope, Sayler Easton, and Bella Fry coming aboard, and Emma Wilson is a new player joining in grade 10 and Jersey Ros joins as a new grade 11 player.
Like the boys, the girls have stability between the pipes with Madison Bliss and Danielle Schram both back on the roster.
The girls will also look to their most experienced players to provide leadership. Most of the defense corps is made up of returning players. Jerzi Calder is back patrolling the blue line on a victory lap after playing as a senior last year. Isabelle Tanguay, Ophelia Lucas-Engberg, Avery Sinclair and Blaire Cross are all returning on the blue line as well.
The forwards have a solid core of returners as well including Kiera Fairnington, Courtney McCoy Hayden Allam, Karsyn McQuaker all returning as grade 12 students, Marissa Kenny in grade 11 and Marlee Bliss and Ella Evans returning as grade 10 students.
“I think our veterans play an important role,” Bliss said. “I think consistency is the key for everybody across the board on our team whether they’re first year or third year players. We just need to come and bring our best effort every game and be sharp. One of the things we’ve really been trying to work on is our mental focus before games. Knowing what we’re supposed to do every time we step on the ice. We watch a ton of video, every one of our games is live streamed, so we have the ability to play it back and break down shifts and everything like that. To me there’s no better learning tool than that.”
Both teams will be looking to win a NorWOSSA championship this year, but that will look a little different than it has in the past. NorWOSSA hockey has changed formats and will hold single game elimination tournaments at the end of the year with seeding based on the regular season results similar to the NCAA ‘Frozen Four,’ ‘March Madness’ or the Minnesota State Hockey Championship.
Fort Frances will host the inaugural end-of-season tournament bringing together all of the teams from across NorWOSSA from Red Lake, Dryden, Sioux Lookout, and Kenora Beaver Brae (Beaver Brae does not have a girls team this year) and St. Thomas Aquinas. According to the NorWOSSA website the playoffs are scheduled for Friday Feb. 23 and Saturday Feb. 24 at Ice For Kids Arena in Fort Frances. Bliss says after this year the tournaments will rotate around to the different schools.