Squad relying on Green’s leadership

The 2006-07 Muskie boys’ hockey team has built an impressive résumé.
The black-and-gold went undefeated (17-0-1) during the NorWOSSA regular season. And they swept the two best-of-three playoff series—first against the Kenora Broncos in the semi-finals and then the Dryden Eagles for the league crown.
They boast both the NorWOSSA regular-season scoring champion in Taylor Jorgensen (12 goals/14 assists), as well as the top offensive performer during the playoffs in captain Ryan Witherspoon (eight goals/four assists).
Including the playoffs, the Muskies were riding an eight-game winning streak when they took to the ice this morning to face Thomas A. Stewart (Peterborough) in their opening game at the all-Ontario ‘AAA’ boys’ hockey championship.
All factors considered, even the most ardent cynic would have trouble finding cause for complaint given the Muskies’ performance this season.
However, if there is one area in which the Muskies are lacking, it is experience competing on high school hockey’s biggest stage.
Only eight players—Michael McCaig, Kevin Bobczynski, Riley Caul, George Halverson, Ryan Witherspoon, Richard Wieringa, David Moen, and Mitch Green—remain from the squad that captured the hearts of the hometown faithful a year ago when Fort Frances hosted the annual tournament.
As such, nearly two-thirds of the 22-man roster got their first taste of OFSAA-calibre hockey earlier today.
With such an inexperienced roster, Muskie head coach Shane Bliss has been forced to rely heavily upon the few players who’ve been through the proverbial wars to provide both leadership and guidance.
Of those, none has more experience competing at OFSAA than Green. The Muskie senior has been fortunate enough to compete at the highest level each and every year he’s played.
This year’s journey to Oshawa marks Green’s fourth-consecutive appearance at the all-Ontarios—a fact Bliss believes could pay major dividends for his inexperienced squad.
“With Mitch having been here before, he knows the routine and that makes him pretty valuable to the team,” the Muskie bench boss explained.
“Leadership is a big thing at OFSAA,” he added. “Four years ago we came down here and, based on the Muskie reputation and our good record, they had us ranked fourth.
“But we had nobody that had any OFSAA experience and we didn’t get out of our pool.
“Having Mitch is pretty valuable for us and hopefully he can show the rest of the guys the ropes,” Bliss added.
The mantle of leadership is one Green has been willing to assume in the hopes it will help lead the team to success.
“I’m a fourth-year guy and I want this to be my best year,” he said. “After this, I’m probably not going to play hockey again so I’m going to give it my all.”
One of the messages Green stressed with his teammates leading up to the tournament was the need to be mentally prepared.
“You can’t take a shift off,” he remarked. “You have to be going all the time. You can’t have little brain lapses. You have to be continually thinking about the game.
“There are going to be a lot bigger guys and a lot faster game,” he noted. “We just need to keep calm, play well, and not panic.”
One of the players facing the challenges of the all-Ontarios for the first time is Green’s roommate, Joe Basaraba. The first-year forward is thankful to have both Green and the other OFSAA veterans on hand to answer any questions he might have.
“It’s good to have them for leadership, especially at OFSAA,” he said. “They’ve been here before and they know what it’s like.”
Basaraba said Green and the rest of the veterans’ influence is felt most during practice and in the dressing room.
“They make sure we’re working hard, that’s for sure,” he remarked. “And in the dressing room, if you’re down, they’ll pick you up and help you out when you need it.”
Despite the team’s overall lack of experience, Green believes they have what it takes to be playing for a gold medal come Saturday night.
“They’re really excited to be here and that’s a good thing I think,” he said. “They’ve got a chance to be the best team in Ontario and I think they are up for the challenge.”