OFSAA berth making decisions difficult for Bliss

With his mullet in mid-form and a mustache that was still in the peach-fuzz stage, Shane Bliss was 14 years old when his world almost came apart.
Having just played in his first year with the Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association, Bliss, who is from Emo, had had a good season in the PeeWee league and was looking forward to suiting up for the local Bantam ‘AA’ team.
“I didn’t make the team, though,” Bliss recalled of 1985, and hesitantly admitted his eyes looked like two full sinks about to spill over.
But a phone call from then Muskie head coach Terry Ogden changed all that.
“Coach Ogden called me and asked me if I wanted to come out for the Muskie tryouts,” he noted. “I really didn’t think I would be of much use because I didn’t make the Bantam team, so how could I make the Muskie team?”
But Bliss did make the high school team and though his playing time wasn’t substantial because of his Grade 9 status, “It was still such a thrill to be there in the first place.”
“When I got cut from the Bantam team, I thought my life was over,” remarked Bliss. “And the next thing I know, I’ve made the high school team and we went on to win OFSAA that year for the first time.”
Bliss, now the head coach of the Muskie boys’ hockey team, sometimes uses that story when having to break the hard news to a black-and-gold hopeful to show being cut isn’t the end of the world.
For him, however, this is the hardest tryouts he’s had to go through during his tenure with the Muskies.
The reason? The all-Ontarios.
Unless you have the I.Q. of a gnat, then you’ve undoubtedly heard that Fort Frances will be hosting the all-Ontarios this coming March.
But while that is great news for the town, given it will infuse a substantial amount of money here, it also has created a chamber of thinking for Bliss that’s making him lean towards the insane.
There are many questions when choosing this year’s team—and answers have been hard to come by.
“The thinking doesn’t stop,” Bliss admitted after a tryout session last Wednesday night at the Ice for Kids Arena.
One big area of debate, for instance, is how many returning players the Muskies should take on board.
Sixteen of the 55 players attending the tryouts have Muskie experience. And with Bliss is suggesting the team will sport a roster of 22, how many spots does that leave for new players hoping to make the squad?
“Does that mean we only need six players? What are we going to do there?” Bliss questioned. “What if you have 16 or 17 good forwards, but you can only keep 12 of them, what do you do?”
He isn’t asking for help with the answer, but Bliss certainly will be looking for advice from long-time Muskie assistant coach Ken “Kenno” Christiansen when it comes time to making those hard decisions.
“I’ll talk to him to see how they’ve approached that issue in the past,” Bliss said.
One question begging to be answered (and will be later this week) is how much is Bliss willing to sacrifice the success of future seasons to have success this year when the team has an automatic berth to OFSAA?
Bliss laughs a bit after the question has been relayed to him because he’s asked it to himself a number of times. But he offers this response.
“I think no matter what we do, we’re going to have a pretty new team next year,” he remarked.
“I’m not saying all the kids coming back are going to make the team, but say three-quarters of them do, then that’s still 12 or 13 players that will be gone after this season and that still leaves you with a new team.”
No Muskie team has ever been the same two years in a row and that will be true again this season. But the black-and-gold undoubtedly will keep players who were on the roster last season because “experience is so crucial when you go to OFSAA,” said Bliss.
That was evident when you look at the success the Muskies had last season at OFSAA, where they advanced to the medal round despite being ranked 17th.
Most of the players from last season’s team were on the squad the year before when the Muskies made it to OFSAA in London. But none of them had ever been to OFSAA before and that reflected in their poor showing there.
Clearly, the experience they gained in London translated into success at Windsor. But Bliss also stressed an influx of new blood each year is necessary as they act like a B-12 shot.
“Those new players bring so much enthusiasm into the rink, and they’re happy to play and they’re so happy to be there,” he noted. “Sometimes, with guys that have been here for a while, it gets stale for them and they’ve lost a bit of that edge.
“It’s like a kid growing up at Christmas time, you eventually grow out of it,” he explained. “But that feeling of not being able to wait and being so excited to come out to the rink is something you need because it can spread and that’s a good infection to have.”
And if Bliss were to ask the jolly fat man in the red suit for anything this year, it would be a crystal ball that shows the future.
“When it comes down to those last cuts, that’s when that kind of thinking starts—What do we do here now? What about next year? What about this year? There are so many things to consider,” said Bliss.
“You don’t want to make the wrong decisions, but you can’t read into the future.
“We do want to have a good showing because OFSAA will be here in town, and in my mind we have to definitely consider that when we make our decisions.
“I think we have to go for it.”