After not winning a single game against the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora) during the regular season, the Muskie girls’ hockey team was the author of a new story in its best-of-three NorWOSSA semi-final series last week.
The third-seeded Muskies claimed the series 2-1 with a 6-4 road win Sunday afternoon to advance to the best-of-three NorWOSSA final against the top-ranked Dryden Eagles, which kicked off there last night (the outcome wasn’t known as of press time).
It was the same story against Dryden as the Eagles took all four regular-season meetings, as well as also beating the Muskies twice at tournaments.
Muskie head coach Chris Sinclair was hopeful his team once again would prove it was no pushover in last night’s series opener.
“Dryden is another team that we have seen a lot of this year,” he noted. “We played them four times in our league and then played them twice more in various tournaments throughout the year.
“Just like our record with T.A. was going into [that] series, we have not beaten them yet,” Sinclair said of the Eagles. “But [we] have played them really close for the majority of the games.
“We will be focusing on our defensive zone, and continuing to improve in that area, as playing a strong defensive game is going to be key to success,” he noted.
Sinclair also cited the importance of the Muskies continuing their strong play as they’ve had of late against a very skilled Eagles’ team.
“I’ve said it all year,” he remarked. “We need to be better than we were yesterday and this remains the focus.
“Yeah, it is great that we overcame T.A. and won the first round, but we cannot be satisfied with winning one series,” he stressed.
“We need to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize, which is the NorWOSSA gold and a trip to OFSAA.”
Game 2 of the NorWOSSA final is set for tomorrow at 7:15 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena, with Game 3 (if necessary) back in Dryden on Saturday night.
The winner will advance to all-Ontarios slated for March 18-21 in Midland.
As for their NorWOSSA semi-final series against St. Thomas Aquinas, the Muskies definitely had to earn the series victory as nothing came easy against the second-seeded Saints.
Alex Gartzke netted a hat trick to pace the black-and-gold to victory Sunday afternoon in the third-and-deciding game in Kenora.
The game didn’t start off well for the Muskies as Ally Turcotte opened the scoring 11:21 into the first period.
Seanna Derouard then doubled the lead just over a minute later when she beat Muskie goalie Jersey Masson five-hole.
But Gartzke put the Muskies on the board on a two-man advantage with 7:05 to go in the frame before Issy Taylor tied it less than a minute later with another power-play marker.
Tatum Glowasky then fired home the rebound of Emily Kaun’s shot with 2:38 left to put the Muskies up 3-2 after 20 minutes.
Gartzke fired home her second of the afternoon 5:14 into the second to stake the black-and-gold to a two-goal cushion.
Martina Woods then tallied with 11:16 to go in the frame to make it 5-2.
But the Saints made a valiant comeback attempt from there.
Chloe Skead buried a feed from Abbie Favreau and Jessica Pitura 17 seconds later to trim it to 5-3 after 40 minutes.
Natalie Reynard then tipped home a shot on a man advantage to bring the hosts within a goal with 11:20 to go in the third.
But Gartzke finished off her hat trick with an empty-netter with five seconds left to cap the scoring
Masson earned the win while Faith Reid was tagged with the loss.
“We got down 2-0 pretty early in the game and I think it would have been easy for the girls to give up,” Sinclair said. “[But] our power play was huge for us and got us going.
“They [the Saints] took a few penalties, which gave us a 5-on-3 where we scored twice, and then ended up with another power play where we were able to capitalize with another [goal] and take the lead before ending the first period,” he added.
“I think that was the turning point in the game,” Sinclair admitted. “They were kind of in control of everything and then got a little undisciplined and like I said, our power play came up huge.
“From there, I thought we controlled the second period, adding a couple more goals giving us a 5-2 lead heading into the third period.
“They came out strong, as expected, in the third with a couple goals to make it 5-4, but we were able to hang on and add an empty-net to seal the win,” Sinclair added.
“Although it started with the power play, it was a whole team effort to overcome the odds and win the series,” he lauded.
Fort High went into the third-and-deciding game fresh off a 2-1 loss to the Saints in Game 2 on Thursday night at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The visitors opened the scoring 13 minutes into the first period when Reynard pounced on a turnover near the Muskies’ blueline before skating in and firing a shot past Masson.
Montana Neil then doubled the lead with 2:34 to go in the second on a man advantage when she unleashed a cannon of a shot from the point off a feed from Skead that beat Masson upstairs to push it to 2-0 after 40 minutes.
Ashlyn Beck finally got the Muskies on the board with 11:03 to go in the third when she redirected Kaun’s shot the eluded Saints’ goalie Sarah From to trim it to 2-1.
But despite a late push from the black-and-gold, From stood tall from there to preserve the win.
“I just finished telling them [the girls] you can’t really fault our effort,” Sinclair said afterwards about not being able to close out the series on home ice.
“You can’t really say we didn’t try because I thought we played really hard.
“I thought, for the majority of the game, we controlled the play,” he noted. “We spent a lot of time in the offensive zone.
“A struggle with us all season was putting pucks in the net and we just didn’t capitalize tonight [Thursday],” he reasoned.