Single-game elimination format hard for Muskies to overcome as hockey seasons end in silver

By Allan Bradbury
Staff writer

It made for an exciting if anticlimactic ending to the Fort Frances High School hockey teams’ seasons this year as NorWOSSA changed playoff formats to a four-team single game elimination tournament over the course of two days.

On Friday night both teams played semi-final games against the Sioux North Warriors. In the girls’ division Sioux North had struggled all season so the 23-0 runaway wain was not unexpected but the Warriors came out fighting and Muskies goaltender Danielle Schram had to make a couple of saves early. After the Muskies started scoring mid-way through the first period they didn’t look back.

The Muskie boys didn’t have the same runaway game but beat the Warriors boys 5-2.

The addition of the Muskie pep band and cheer leaders made for a great atmosphere on Friday night as well.

Ice For Kids Arena was jam packed for the two winner-take-all games on Saturday afternoon. Both games had tension-filled third periods but the home fans would be disappointed.

Both the boys and girls Muskie hockey teams came into the tournament as number one seeds The Muskie girls were 8-0 in NorWOSSA play but had lost to the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints in exhibition play. The boys finished with a record of seven wins, one loss and one overtime loss; the regulation loss came to the eventual champions, the Beaver Brae Broncos.

The Muskie girls played a hard-fought game against the Saints on Saturday afternoon but were unable to beat the Saints’ goalie. Perhaps the closest they came was a third period shot off the crossbar. The game ended 4-0 after a late third period goal dribbled past senior goalie Maddy Bliss. Bliss was pulled for an extra attacker but the Saints put two goals into the empty net.

After the game Muskie Girls head coach Shane Bliss talked about the back and forth between the Muskies and Saints all season.

“We’ve always had great games with them all the way through (the season) and we won the last few, it’s almost like it was their turn, or they were due,” Bliss said. “But we just couldn’t buy [a goal] if we would have gone one to go in the net, I think we could have gotten the momentum to swing our way. The girls worked their butts off, but that’s just the way it goes in a one-game series like that. It’s exciting but it’s nerve-wracking and that’s why.”

The Muskie girls were visibly emotional as they left the ice as this marked a second missed opportunity to get to the all-Ontario Championship. Some of the seniors had their highschool hockey careers disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic including a cancelled OFSAA trip in 2020 after qualifying before the pandemic took hold.

The Muskie boys game was a back and forth affair that unfortunately went to the team that scored last.

Muskie Boys Head coach, Chris Sinclair said the boys had nothing to hang their heads about.

“I think it was everything that you want in a final game,” Sinclair said. “It was a high-intensity, high-energy hockey game as it was expected to be. There was both scoring and big saves at both ends and was physical throughout. It was back and forth all game, with both teams battling back from deficits, and both teams carrying momentum at different points in the game. The crowd and atmosphere was amazing and it was great to see such support from the community. Unfortunately for us, we were on the wrong end of a good hockey game. Just because we didn’t achieve our goal of making it to OFSAA, doesn’t mean this season was a failure. I look at where we started back at our tryouts in September and where we got to and I see the year as a success.”

The boys team was often without players all year and only played six games all season with a full lineup. Forward Aiden Loerzel missed the playoffs with a shoulder injury.

Sinclair says overall despite the end result he was pleased with the season, and hopes to build back for next year to reclaim the NorWOSSA trophy they’ll be losing seven senior players including their starting goaltender.

“The team showed great perseverance and persistence to improve and compete each game we played and they should be proud of what they accomplished this season rather than dwelling on our final game,” Sinclair said. “There are some big pieces to our team that we are losing. Starting goalie Karson Loughrey, and two top forwards in Ashton Veldhuisen and Klyde Laplante. I’ve had the pleasure of coaching these three kids for the past three years and their leadership and dedication to this program will be missed. Along with them, forward Aiden Jean and defensemen Austin Mosbeck who played for the past two years and seniors Jack Davis and Kalin Grennier who joined us this season will all be graduating this year. Between all of them, we are losing size, skill, work ethic and leadership. Having said that, I believe that these seven players have shown what it means to be a Muskie hockey player and have helped the younger players grow along the way. We have a solid core of players eligible to return for next season so It’ll be up to them to follow in these footsteps and step up to fill those roles and hopefully bring the NorWOSSA trophy back to Fort Frances.”