Tough end to season for Muskie boys

Jamie Mountain

You can’t win them all.
The Muskie boys’ hockey team found that out first-hand last Tuesday night as the Sioux Lookout Warriors pulled out a thrilling 4-3 double-overtime victory with just 33.9 seconds on the clock at a packed Ice For Kids Arena in the third-and-deciding game of the NorWOSSA final.
It was the first league title for the Warriors, who now advance to the all-Ontarios set for March 19-23 in Collingwood.
The loss wasn’t due to a lack of effort for the black-and-gold, who fired a whopping 80-plus shots on Warriors’ goalie Jayden Marshall.
“I thought that we really carried a good majority of the play,” Muskie head coach Jordan Sinclair said after the heart-breaking loss.
“One minute you’re ‘to the moon,'” he noted. “You’re on your toes with excitement and anticipation [and] energy because of the chances that you’ve created.
“Then all of a sudden, the next it feels like you get punched in the gut when they score or [there’s] one bounce and they get an opportunity.”
Connor Nelson opened the scoring for the Muskies after co-captain Eric Pitkanen had tried to beat Marshall with a short-handed wraparound attempt.
The puck ended up squirting out front to where Nelson was ready and waiting to fire it home just 1:44 into the game.
The Warriors drew even when Ben Forbes deked around the Muskie defence before walking in and beating Darian Klem with a backhander at 15:20 of the second.
Sioux Lookout then took a 2-1 lead when Kendall Schulz tipped a shot from the point into the Muskie net that Klem had no chance of stopping.
The black-and-gold tied it when defenceman Austin Armstrong fired a snap shot past Marshall with time running out on a man advantage.
But Cortez Favot gave the Warriors the lead again in the latter stages of the third, when he made a few impressive dekes before blazing a backhander over Klem.
With their season on the line and time running out, the Muskies pulled Klem in favour of an extra attacker.
“We get deeper into the game, I guess even before overtime, the last couple of minutes I just started making a plan for the time-out and what we’re gonna do, and all of a sudden we just couldn’t get a whistle for anything,” Sinclair recalled.
“I didn’t think we were going to get a time-out to get things sorted out [but] fortunately we did.”
Kaleb Bruyere eventually found a loose puck in a goal-mouth scramble and promptly fired the game-tying goal home with just 1.7 seconds left to force overtime–much to the delight of the raucous home crowd.
“You kinda lose your breath again when [you see] those two empty-net chances,” admitted Sinclair.
“They shoot it down the ice and they just go wide.
“All of sudden, you look up and there’s 20 seconds, you look up again and there’s five seconds left, or whatever it was on the clock for the face-off,” he added.
“You sure hope that you find a way but you’re definitely not necessarily expecting [to tie it],” Sinclair chuckled.
“It’s just a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing.”
After the first overtime solved nothing, the game moved to a second extra frame.
The Muskies piled on chance after chance but could not find a way to put the winner past Marshall.
That eventually came back to haunt them as the Warriors fired the winning goal past a devastated Klem before the fifth frame came to a close.
Klem finished with 40-plus saves in taking the loss as the Muskies came up just short of claiming their 11th-straight league title.
“All throughout the overtimes, they had a few chances but it was just like we kept coming, wave after wave after wave,” Sinclair noted.
“Each shift, it seemed like we had a glorious opportunity to win the thing,” he said. “And we either just missed on our opportunity or missed the net.
“I mean, you gotta give that kid [Marshall] in net credit also,” Sinclair stressed. “He made a couple of phenomenal saves.
“And then at the end of the day, it’s incredibly–not necessarily disappointing, that’s not the word, but it’s just heartbreaking,” he remarked.
“Because the guys worked so hard and, really, it’s almost criminal that we lost that game, you know, to be honest with you.
“I mean, those guys across from us worked their tails off, no doubt about it,” Sinclair lauded. “But you look at the opportunities and chances that we had and to not find a way or to not go out on top . . . that’s a tough one, for sure.”
Although the season definitely didn’t end the way he had hoped, Sinclair is optimistic about the future of Muskie boys’ hockey.
“We’ll need a little bit of time to evaluate, or re-evaluate, and basically get over what just happened tonight,” he conceded.
“So take, hopefully, a couple of days to get feeling a little better about things.
“We definitely [will] lose a number of guys and certainly some good players to graduation,” Sinclair noted.
“But I know there’s some good players in the Bantam level that have the opportunity to move up.
“We’ve seen a number of them; all of our affiliates got the opportunity to play this year,” he said, referring to Jace Dittaro, Peyton Avis, Matt Spence, Jaden Cooper, and Ashton Cousineau, who also all saw playing time with the black-and-gold during the playoffs.
“It’s so tough nowadays because there’s so many different options for these kids,” Sinclair remarked. “And there’s so many different teams to play on.
“So what you think you could potentially have, or what you think your roster may look like, could be totally different than what it actually is come September,” he reasoned.
“At this age, too, sometime guys get girlfriends or sometimes guys decide they want to try different sports.
“But we do definitely have a core of younger players that are eligible to come back,” Sinclair added.
“And if they do so, accompanied with some of the prospects that could potentially move up from either the Midget program or from the Bantam program, I think that we’ll be all right again,” he enthused.
“There’s always a lot of work to put in, and a long way to go and to build, but the potential is there.”