Look beyond Muskies’ win-loss record

What a difference a DVD player makes. I’m pleased to report I survived the 20-hour return leg of my trip to the all-Ontarios with the Muskie boys’ hockey team last week. In fact, with the help of the newly-repaired DVD player and a seemingly endless supply of movies provided by the players, the time passed relatively quickly. I stress “relatively.” But while the long bus ride wasn’t exactly a joyous affair, it did provide me with more than a few moments to reflect upon the tournament and how the Muskies fared. After many hours of careful contemplation, I’ve come to this conclusion—the experience was a crucial first step in what promises to be bigger and better things in seasons to come. Now I’m sure there’ll be more than a few people around town who will point to the team’s 1-3 record and declare the tournament a disaster. Nothing could be further from the truth. This team was young and inexperienced heading into the all-Ontarios in Oshawa. The black-and-gold had a grand total of two players (Mitch Green and Kevin Bobczynski) who had travelled to compete at OFSAA in the past. And they only had eight players (Green, Bobczynski, Riley Caul, Michael McCaig, George Halverson, Ryan Witherspoon, Rich Wieringa, and David Moen) who were on the team last year when the event was held here in Fort Frances. Provided my weak math skills haven’t completely failed me, that means just under two-thirds of the roster skated at OFSAA for the first time last week. Inexperience usually is a killer in tournaments such as the all-Ontarios and it certainly played a large part in the Muskies’ demise. Case in point, the infamous 7-0 game against the top-ranked Mother Teresa Spartans last Thursday night. Penalties were a major factor in that particular game. The officials who worked the contest called a tight game. This isn’t to say they tried to control the game, it was quite the opposite—they made it very clear in the early going they were going to call the game by the book and then did so. The problem was that the Muskies never adjusted their physical style to suit the officials. The black-and-gold found themselves short-handed 14 times during the game and surrendered four power-play goals. The Spartans added a fifth goal within 10 seconds of a Muskie penalty expiring. Any time a team surrenders what is, in effect, five power-play goals, it is going to lose. I’d be willing to wager my salary this month that if the Muskies had been a more veteran-laden squad, they’d have recognized the situation a little sooner and made the appropriate adjustments. Now, I’m certain the critics point to head coach Shane Bliss and make the argument that he should have adjusted the team’s game for them. I’d reply quite simply by saying that I think he tried to do just that. The problem is that the Muskies are still kids. Many a parent will attest to the fact that they’ve told their teenage son or daughter to do something and have met with great resistance—and I don’t think it was much different in this instance. The players were determined to play a certain style and were forced to suffer the consequences. Having said all this, I think the Muskies recognized the mistake after the game. I spoke with several of the players and they all pointed to their undisciplined play as the main reason for the loss. And while this is but one example, there were countless instances in which players made mistakes that I’d be very surprised to see them repeat if they were given another opportunity. The point I’m meandering towards is that this experience only will help a team that could possibly return 19 of 22 players next season. This year was a learning experience. The interesting part will be in seeing how many of the players took those lessons to heart and whether they come back next year with something to prove. The following are some other random thoughts about last week’s OFSAA tournament: •Contrary to some of the rumblings I’ve overheard around town, the Muskie goalies both performed admirably last week. David Moen and Rich Wieringa came into this year’s tournament looking for redemption following last year’s less-than-ideal showing in front of the hometown fans. They delivered—big time. Moen made big saves in each of the first two games and could not be faulted for any of the goals he did allow. Quite frankly, he was hung out to dry by the guys playing in front of him on a couple of occasions. Wieringa’s is a classic situation in which the scoreboard does not reflect the goalie’s performance. I think if you asked many of the Muskie skaters, they’d tell you the Spartans game could have been much worse had it not been for Wieringa’s heroics between the pipes. Both goalies were among the best players the black-and-gold had throughout the tournament. •Mike McCaig gets my nod as the top Muskie defenceman at the all-Ontarios. McCaig wasn’t intimidated at all and was steady at both ends of the ice. He scored a couple of highlight reel goals on blasts from the point and he gets credit for the biggest hit of the week after he plastered a Spartan along the boards midway through that game. •My vote for top forward goes to Kyle Turgeon. The Muskie assistant captain isn’t a big guy but the physical style in which he plays the game took its toll on the opposition. And like McCaig, Turgeon wasn’t intimidated by anyone or anything. He played hard, contributed offensively, and was responsible in his own end. •Honourable mention goes to Joe Basaraba. The rookie sensation played well in his first trip to the all-Ontarios and controlled the play at times. When he’s shooting, Basaraba is tough to stop in the offensive zone. •The Muskies couldn’t have ended up in a tougher pool. The Brother Andre Cardinals wound up defeating the Mayfield Mavericks in the consolation final Saturday afternoon. •I’m convinced competing in NorWOSSA really hurt the Muskies this year. The overall weakness of the league allowed the black-and-gold to run the table with relative ease. The problem with that is that they weren’t battle-hardened. On several occasions, Muskie players seemed to sag when they fell behind a goal. I believe the main reason behind this is that they weren’t used to being down on the scoreboard. Here’s hoping Kenora, Dryden, and Red Lake field stronger teams next season. •My one complaint with the tournament organizers involved their lack of goal judges. The nets in Oshawa were very tight and I witnessed the puck go in-and-out on at least three separate occasions without the referee signalling for a goal. It would have been a great shame to lose a game because of a missed goal when the solution is easily at hand.

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