Second ‘Border Battle’ even better than first

Last year at this time (though, to be honest, it feels like 20 years ago at this point), I had my first-ever experience witnessing the annual exhibition battle between the Muskie boys’ hockey team and the International Falls Broncos.
From the duelling chants and the throwing of pizza boxes onto the ice to the dramatic overtime winner by Muskie Brett McMahon, the 2-1 triumph was one I would never forget and left me wanting more.
So as this past Friday edged closer and closer on the calendar, my personal excitement was starting to build. But I was wondering if my own hype would leave me disappointed if this year’s contest wasn’t as close to matching the 2011 version.
But I didn’t need to worry as this year’s “Border Battle” not only matched the first one, it surpassed it.
Prior to the game starting, I overheard one man saying to one of his friends that this game is “like the Civil War but without the gunfire,” and I personally think that’s the best way you can describe the 2012 edition of the Broncos/Muskies’ showdown.
On numerous occasions in the first period, I was left screaming “Oh my goodness” over the severity of the hits that were taking place as this game was being played at a much more ragged pace than any NorWOSSA contest that took place at the Ice For Kids Arena this season.
In fact, there were a couple of knee-on-knee collisions that should have left the players on both teams writhing in pain. But in those incidents, each skater got right back up and went at it again.
While all that was happening, the fans were being whipped into a frenzy as they were cheering back and forth with one another (although someone needs to tell the Fort High fans to keep on time with the anthem singer for next year’s game as they were about a verse off during “O Canada,” leaving this reporter in stitches.
But what made this year’s game even better was the finish.
After being under attack in the last few minutes, the Broncos started to turn up the wick in the final minutes for the tying goals, and just started to pepper the net as the clock wound down.
Then with 2.7 seconds left, Christian Kittelson’s shot found the back of the net. Up in the stands, the spot where I was standing taking photos between the two sections of fans turned into a rock concert on both sides of me.
In overtime, the Muskies once again dominated play early on but an untimely unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to defenceman Robbie Rea gave the Broncos all they needed.
When Mason Meyer scored the game-winner a few seconds later, you could just see the reactions of both teams of what it meant. The Broncos raced over to join their students in the stands while the Muskies looked on just absolutely dejected.
The only drawback of the entire evening was the water and pop bottle chucking between both student sections, which was causing those who weren’t in those areas to duck for cover.
In hindsight, while the two sections of students being next to each other is a fantastic experience, it might not be the smartest idea to have them so close, especially when the game’s intensity begins to build.
Perhaps in the future, those in charge of security would be better off to separate both sections a little bit farther from each other as it would be much easier to police but it shouldn’t take away from the intensity too much.
While this game is labelled on the schedule as an exhibition game, it is anything but, especially for those taking part.
A perfect example of that could be seen after the game as there was Rea, his head in his hands, absolutely distressed over what happened in the final moments.
As I left the Ice For Kids Arena on Friday night, the only thought going through my head was that I needed a cigarette—and I have never smoked in my life.
Along with that, I also made a vow to myself to make sure that I’m around for next year’s encounter between the two arch-rivals, as for me, it’ll be the rubber match in the “Border Battle.”

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