Muskies’ dynasty reaches ‘Cloud Nine’

Joey Payeur

Ken Christiansen undertook his usual late-February task—collecting sticks in the hallway while the team he’s been associated with for decades sat in the dressing room and high-fived its way through another round of league champion celebrations.
Hey, Ken-O, how does a ninth-straight NorWOSSA title feel?
“It never gets old,” said the long-time assistant coach and always-willing equipment handler after the Muskie boys’ hockey team added another bauble to its vault of crown jewels.
Chase McGuire scored two goals, and Matt Booth was unbeatable in goal, as Fort High blanked the host Kenora Broncos 3-0 on Saturday to sweep the best-of-three NorWOSSA final.
Fort High now will make its 36th visit to the OFSAA ‘A/AA’ championships, which take place March 7-10 in Ottawa, where the Muskies will by vying to claim their first gold medal since 2001.
The Broncos put up a much tougher fight than many expected—losing the opener 4-3 here last Thursday.
Then they kept Game 2 a one-goal affair well into the third period before rookie Jon Busch and McGuire (empty-netter) sealed the deal.
“It was a good series and I thought we played pretty well,” said Muskie head coach Jamie Davis, who captured his third NorWOSSA crown in three seasons at the helm of the black-and-gold.
“It was back-and-forth and I thought Matty Booth was spectacular when he needed to be tonight [Saturday],” added Davis, who faithfully stuck to his goalie rotation between Game 1 starter Dylan Ossachuk and Booth pretty much the entire season.
“There was no reason not to play him, and he took the opportunity and ran with it,” Davis lauded.
The Muskies knew they had to get to red-hot Broncos’ goalie Noah Witzke early after he nearly stole Game 1.
McGuire took care of that at 11:22 of the first—dropping a pass to Graeme Kitt on a right-wing rush and then deftly redirecting Kitt’s shot over Witzke’s shoulder.
“Kenora was giving us lots of fits in our own zone,” admitted Kitt, who is a perfect 4-for-4 when it comes to NorWOSSA gold medals.
“We had to go get that first goal and get the momentum on our side,” he stressed.
With forward Sully Shortreed back on the top line with Kitt and McGuire, and defenceman Mike Drouin (finger) finally giving Fort High six blueliners for the first time in the playoffs, the Muskies proceeded to execute a textbook road game strategy.
The Broncos barely touched the puck during the second period, with most of the play in Kenora’s zone.
“That was our best game of the year, considering the circumstances where some of our guys weren’t even playing at 50 percent [health],” noted Kitt.
“You’ve got Drouin with half a finger, and then to have Sully back with me and McGuire gives us some chemistry,” he added.
“We’ve been clicking pretty well, considering between the three of us we got 100 points in only 15 games.”
The third period was somewhat more of the same, although Booth was called upon twice in the first five minutes to make a pair of standout saves.
He first denied Riley Beacham on a partial breakaway with a pad save, then stopped Johnny Houlden on a one-timer from the doorstep.
“A couple of times they bailed me out and a couple of times I bailed them out,” reasoned the Grade 10 netminder.
“We support each other on the ice.
“To get that big save early gave me a lot of confidence and got me through the rest of the game,” Booth added.
“To see this team do this the past how many years, and then finally getting to do it myself, is pretty fun and a good experience,” he said.
“I can’t wait to come back her the next two years.”
Busch made it 2-0 when he cashed in on a rebound of Sam Tibbs’ long shot at 9:29 of the third.
With the way the Muskies were stifling Kenora’s attack, that two-goal lead very well may have looked like 20 to the Broncos.
“The Busch goal was huge for us,” agreed Davis. “There’s no other way to put it.”
Kitt said the team has been gearing up for OFSAA all season.
“We don’t want to just go to the quarter-finals again [like the last two years],” he remarked.
“We aren’t going there to finish fifth, fourth, third, or second,” Kitt stressed.
“We don’t want to come home without a gold medal in our hand.”
Whatever happens, Kitt confirmed he won’t return for a fifth try at gold when the Muskies host the all-Ontarios next season.
“Next year, my mom and I pretty much agreed I’ve got to go to university,” said the future law school student.
“Seven years is a long time to wait to be finished school so I had better get started,” he reasoned.
Davis, meanwhile, allowed himself a glance back at a season that started with personal tragedy for he and his partner, Alyssa Vanderaa, when they lost their baby daughter, Addilyn, in late October.
“This helps,” he said briefly before switching right back to the here and now.
“We want to have a really good showing in Ottawa. That’s our end game,” Davis vowed.
“It would be nice to play for a medal.”
The Muskies should be back to full strength on the bench come OFSAA as forward Cam Gushulak (post-concussion syndrome) said Sunday he believed he would be ready for the first game.
Fort High’s ranking and tournament schedule had not been released as of press time.