Muskie boys’ squad gearing for stretch run

Jamie Mountain

The Muskie boys’ hockey team has played plenty of games since returning from the Christmas break–and overcome many of the challenges thrown its way.
The black-and-gold won all three games they played last week, which included a narrow road victory in Dryden on Thursday night before romping over the Red Lake Rams in back-to-back affairs Saturday and Sunday at “The Duke” (Couchiching Arena).
After escaping a late Eagles’ comeback with a 5-4 win, the Muskies thumped the Rams by scores of 10-1 and 9-2 to improve their NorWOSSA record to 9-2 heading into the exam break.
Players getting some rest is what head coach Jordan Sinclair cited as being a top priority for his squad heading into their game against the International Falls Broncos next Thursday at 7:15 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena, which will be the finale of their annual two-game “Border Battle” exhibition series.
Fort High claimed the opener by a 4-1 margin back on Dec. 21 in the Falls.
“This week we’ll have a regular schedule so we’ll get after it hard,” Sinclair said of the Muskies’ preparation over the next two weeks.
“Then [next] week, we’ll have an optional practice with the kids having exams during that week,” he noted.
“But that’s also a good opportunity, I think, to get away from studying a little bit and get your mind off things and work on some individual skills.
“It’s a real good time for players, and as a coach, to be able to really focus with one player at a time and work on some things that they need to work on,” Sinclair reasoned.
“If you got enough guys to work on the power play, that’s obviously something that is a big emphasis in practises with us and has got to get better,” he stressed.
“But I think a little break will be good for us because although we’ve, for the most part, got our full roster back, it’s been quite hectic for us since the new year with a couple of trips to Winnipeg and then all these games in a short period of time.
“So I think a little time to rest, refresh, get some guys who are sick and injured back, and then go from there.”
As for the last week’s games, Jake Barker scored twice to pace the Muskies’ offence in their 9-2 romp over the Rams on Sunday afternoon.
It didn’t take long for the Muskies to pour it on as Connor Nelson opened the scoring just 1:15 into the first period when he fired a wrist shot from the point top shelf into the Rams’ net.
Jaxon Gartzke doubled the lead when he capitalized on a friendly bounce off the end boards.
Barker then notched his first marker of the night when he buried the rebound of Ashton Cousineau’s shot from the left side to make it 3-0.
After Red Lake finally got on the board later in the period, Peyton Avis fired a pass from the corner to Barker in the slot, who made no mistake short-side to regain the Muskies’ three-goal cushion.
“The past couple of games here, I thought we got off to terrible starts both games,” Sinclair conceded after Sunday’s win.
“Score-wise it was just fine. I think it was 4-1 after the first period both yesterday and today,” he noted. “But the way we were playing was not good.
“So we talked about it between periods and then we started playing much better after that.”
That talk seemed to work as Jace Jackson tallied early in the second before Mikel Ward was sprung loose on a breakaway and buried one to push the lead to 6-1.
Matt Spence then made it 7-1 shortly afterwards.
But it wasn’t all good news as a Rams’ player inadvertently collided with Muskie goalie Darian Klem late in the period, knocking both players to the ice.
Klem, who was visibly hurting and had to be helped off the ice, was replaced in goal by Jaden Cooper.
“I just talked to him a little bit ago there and he said it’s his knee,” Sinclair said of Klem’s injury.
“Maybe the Red Lake player just lost where he was on the ice and ran into him, so I don’t think it was malicious by any stretch,” he stressed.
“We’re hoping it’s just more of a Charley horse or a slight strain.
“We’ve got a couple of weeks off, as far as the team goes, so that will be a good time for him [Klem] to rest up,” Sinclair added.
“And if he’s out a week or more, he’ll be ready to go by the time the Falls’ game comes around.”
Barker then had a great chance to complete a hat trick early in the third after he was hauled down from behind on a breakaway, but his slapshot attempt on the ensuing penalty shot was stopped.
Red Lake eventually trimmed it to 7-2 but Cole Magill and Cousineau tallied later in the period to cap the scoring.
It was much of the same for the Muskies on Saturday night as they cruised to a 10-1 thumping of the Rams.
Nelson and Sheldon Kelly each scored twice in that one while Gartzke, Cousineau, Nick Gurski, Austin Armstrong, and Spence added singles.
“It is a challenge, for sure, at times to play them because it’s very easy to drop your level instead of elevate your level,” Sinclair said of the Rams.
“At the end of the day, they’re [the Muskies] just kids and I don’t think they’re any different than the last generation or the next generation,” he added.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get yourself motivated to go.”
Sinclair also lauded the play of Avis and his new line combinations during the two games against Red Lake.
“We switched up the lines a little bit last Monday to start practice, so we had couple days of practice together,” he noted.
“I thought Peyton Avis was good today [Sunday], but the first game yesterday and then in Dryden, he was the best player on the ice by 10 miles,” he lauded.
“He’s definitely one of our more talented players,” Sinclair said. “But he’s a young player so the same goes with him as the rest of those guys, that it takes you a while to adjust to the speed and the size and everything of high school from Bantam.
“What I’ve found, now that it’s my fourth year with the team, is that with those young guys, it usually takes until around Christmas before they really settle in and start to look like themselves and what they can be,” he noted.
The Muskies went into the weekend fresh off a narrow win over the host Eagles on Thursday night.
Armstrong opened the scoring 7:38 into the first period off a feed from Jackson, but the Eagles struck back later in the frame off the stick of Ben Silander to knot it at 1-1.
Barker then regained the lead with 3:30 left in the frame to make it 2-1 after 20 minutes.
Spence and Avis tallied back-to-back early in the second period before Barker notched his second of the game to push it to 5-1 just past the five-minute mark.
But the wheels started to fall off for the Muskies in the third as the Eagles started their comeback attempt.
Dryden struck quickly within the first five minutes of the final frame as they got a trio of tallies from captain Jacob Lugli, Karson Bibeau, and Nathan Ho to cut the gap to 5-4.
Kohl Wrolstad then knotted it at 5-5 with 5:15 left to go as Dryden climbed all the way back.
But Ward broke the deadlock with 2:28 left in regulation time to help the Muskies escape with the two points.