Weary Muskie boys set to open playoffs against Saints

Jamie Mountain

It’s been a long season for the Muskie boys’ hockey team, and they’ve endured their share of bumps and bruises along the way.
The black-and-gold head into tonight’s opening game of their NorWOSSA semi-final series against the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora) at “The Duke” (Couchiching Arena) fresh off a gruelling road trip over the weekend that saw them play three games in as many days to finish the regular season in top spot with a 14-1 record.
The Muskies cruised to a 9-1 romp over the Red Lake Rams on Friday night, but then needed a late goal from Kendyn Faragher to eke out a 5-4 victory against them the following afternoon.
Fort High then capped the regular season with a narrow 5-4 win over the host Sioux Lookout Warriors on Sunday in a make-up game for the one that was postponed back on Jan. 30 due to inclement weather.
“[It] was a long, tough weekend, for sure,” Muskie head coach Jordan Sinclair noted yesterday morning.
“We have played a lot of hockey close together [and] with travel and with a number of injuries, it has been difficult,” he conceded.
“We certainly need these two days off [Monday and Tuesday] to get rested up and, hopefully, healthier.”
Eric Pitkanen netted a hat trick while Jon Busch scored twice to pace the Muskie onslaught Friday night.
Faragher, Reed Bodnar, Austin Armstrong, and Jake Barker added singles.
Then on Saturday, Faragher netted the game-winner with just 42 seconds left to give Fort High the dramatic victory.
Busch scored a hat trick in that one while Dayton Labbe also bulged the twine.
Then Sunday saw the Muskies close out the campaign with a hard-fought comeback win over the Warriors.
Pitkanen netted the winner late in the third, completing his second hat trick of the weekend.
Barker also added a single in a winning cause.
“I thought the guys did a pretty good job of sticking with it when things weren’t really going our way and a few tough bounces put us behind the eight-ball, so to speak,” said Sinclair.
“The play of Jon Busch has stood out to me as one of our better forwards since coming back from his latest injuries,” he added.
“He’s skating better and getting back into the groove, and has been getting rewarded for it lately, which is good to see.”
Now about to face a tough test from the Saints (7-7-0-1) over the coming days, Sinclair knows his crew will have to regain their health in order to come out on top.
Even with sweeping the three-game series during the regular season, St. Thomas Aquinas still can give the Muskies some trouble.
“St. Thomas Aquinas has a good team,” warned Sinclair. “They are young but they are opportunistic, and have two solid goaltenders.
“We certainly aren’t going to overlook them or take them lightly,” he vowed.
“We know, as a group, we are going to have to be sharper than our last couple games and make sure we are making the most of our opportunities.”
Forward Cole Allan has missed some time lately while dealing with an upper-body injury, but Sinclair expects him to play tonight.
“There are a number of guys who are banged up but I expect all of them to be ready to go [tonight],” he remarked.
“Right now, the biggest thing for us is we need the rest.
“We need to be rested and healthy, and looking forward to being able to put a full lineup on the ice,” Sinclair stressed.
“We need to make sure everyone knows and understands their role and what is expected of them.
“From there, we need to make sure our compete, focus, and intensity is way up and try to execute our game plan to the best of our ability,” he concluded.
Game 2 is set for Friday at 1 p.m. in Kenora.
Game 3, if necessary, will be back here but the date, time, and venue is not listed on the team’s website.