OFSAA experience much more than just wins, losses

Some will point to the Muskie boys’ hockey team’s 1-2-1 record at the all-Ontarios in North Bay last week and call it a major disappointment—but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Muskies were burned by the luck of the draw—getting put into the same pool as the eventual silver and bronze medallists. Yet they gave both of them a run for their money before falling short in a pair of heart-breaking losses.
Some of the reason for those close games can be put squarely on the shoulders of goalie Jameson Shortreed—who was nothing short of spectacular against Upper Canada College and St. Marcellinus, including nearly stealing a win for a nervous-looking Muskie squad in their opening game last Wednesday afternoon.
But some of the credit goes to a strong leadership core with OFSAA experience who truly wore their heart on their sleeve all week knowing the importance of this tournament. Many of that group struggled to contain their emotions after realizing their provincial dreams had been dashed—and that sort of Muskie pride and emotional attachment surely did not go unnoticed.
People need to realize that much of the competition the Muskies come against are built for this tournament, with a majority of the players on the best teams playing ‘AAA’ through the season and getting games in at both levels.
Look no further than the mismatch of coloured hockey socks on a team like St. Marcellinus and you’ll have your proof.
Another advantage teams from the south have over the Muskies is the level of competition they face all season. Competing in NorWOSSA of late provides little adversity for the black-and-gold, and they are able to run the table through the playoffs with relative ease and aren’t forced to elevate their game at crunch time.
Sure, the Muskies do a good job scheduling exhibition games with quality competition from Winnipeg and Minnesota, but the NorWOSSA playoffs is what’s freshest in memory heading into the all-Ontarios and that may have hurt them, especially since they were thrown right into the fire in Game 1 last Wednesday.
Fifth-year phenomenon
On a related note, there also seemed to be some controversy and opposition towards second-year Grade 12 student-athletes, like Kyle Herr and Taylor Jorgenson, playing on the hockey team. But this phenomenon is nothing new in high-school hockey circles everywhere—and should be embraced rather than discouraged.
Top-ranked St. Mary had two fifth-year returnees of their own. Further to that, Herr actually was in his first year with the team while Jorgenson actually was only in his third year in the black-and-gold after joining the squad in Grade 11.
An extra year to figure out your career path is better spent going to school and furthering your education than many alternatives they could be doing otherwise. And if playing Muskie hockey is a motivating factor, so be it.
Several seniors from this year’s squad are talking about doing the same thing next fall, and though plans may change over the summer, it looks like a handful could return to help mentor an emerging young squad along.
“As far as it looks right now, I will be coming back next year,” Matt DePiero said.
“Hopefully we get back to OFSAA and have a better result,” he added. “I haven’t really decided what I want to do with my life yet, so instead of going off for a year and spending a bunch of money, I figured it’d be nice to come back and take a few more classes.
“I like playing high school hockey and soccer, so another year of those is nice, too, and just getting a little older and growing up a little bit more can’t hurt.”
Senior Mike Jourdain may be part of that core returning, as well, along with solid defenders Josh Scott, Ryan McDowall, and Jamie Kaun.
“I might come back for another year next year and play with my brother [Nick] or maybe stay in town and play a year of junior, but we’ll see,” Jourdain noted.
Looking ahead
That potential veteran five-pack won’t have to do it alone, however, as the young group of Muskies coming up behind them makes the future look very bright.
Both goalies, Jameson Shortreed and Devon Stromness, just will be entering Grade 11 this fall and already have a full year carrying the mail under their belts.
Shortreed turned some heads with his performance in Games 1 and 2 at OFSAA while Stromness is a good complement, though he’d admit his rebound control is one area that needs improvement.
Grade 11 players entering their senior year will be David Chambers, Devin Ball, Matt Goldamer, Chris Cousineau, and Brendan Cawston, and they’ll definitely be given more responsibility and should be able to step to the plate.
Grade 10 sniper Brett McMahon looked unfazed by the magnitude of the OFSAA experience, creating several offensive chances for himself and his linemates, and he’ll be counted on to fill an offensive role next season and beyond.
Grade 9 stand-outs Donovan Cousineau and Robbie Rea—who both logged big minutes in key situations in North Bay—only will get better, and that’s just plain scary.
No doubt the future certainly is bright, and though it’ll be hard to replace departing seniors who have been a big part of the team the last three or four years, that’s just the natural progression of high school sports.
“We should have a good, solid core coming back, and the goal is to come here [to OFSAA] and win a gold medal,” DePiero stressed. “It’s been a long time now.”
I overheard some press box chatter during the Muskies’ first game, when a 40-something gentleman said “the Muskies always used to be feared at this tournament, and were always the favourites when I was in high school.”
Here’s hoping that presence can be established again.
Parting shot
Away from the ice, what stood out to me most about this Muskie outfit was their ability to shrug off a tough loss and move on. They no doubt cared, and you could see that emotion in their faces after the game.
But what caught my eye was the ability they had to get on the bus afterwards and joke around, have fun, and talk about things outside hockey without allowing the loss to ruin the rest of their day.

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