While it’s much too early to know what will happen on the ice, Jamie Davis is encouraged by what he’s already seeing off the ice.
“I like the culture in the room,” said the Muskie boys’ hockey head coach, whose recently-chosen team is going through its paces to get ready for the 2015-16 season, which kicks off next month.
“All the guys seem to have a good relationship,” he noted.
Coming off yet another NorWOSSA title and having advanced all the way to the OFSAA ‘AA’ quarter-finals, Davis has crafted this season’s squad with one eye on the present and the other on the future—namely when the black-and-gold host the OFSAA championships in the spring of 2017.
“It’s a pretty good mix across the board,” he remarked. “We’ve got some size, some speed, some skill.
“We’ve got youthfulness and we’ve got some guys back for the third time.”
Seven of the 12 forwards return from last season, with the most experienced being “victory lap” players Matt Cheetham and Sam Tibbs, along with Grade 12 sniper Graeme Kitt.
“It’s always good with veteran guys returning as long as they have a positive impact on the younger players,” Davis said.
“It makes our job as coaches easier.”
Newcomers at forward include Grade 12 rookie Cam Gushulak, along with the Grade 10 tandem of Jon Busch and Jake Clendenning and two of the three Grade 9s on the team, Cooper Witherspoon and Nick Hahkala.
“I don’t think we’ll have a problem offensively as we haven’t had problems scoring in the past,” predicted Davis.
He also wasn’t wringing his hands over not having back two-thirds of his top line from last season in Jarred Taylor and Tyler VanUden, who opted not to return to the Muskies.
“I prefer to focus on the guys we have because these are the guys we have to work with,” Davis reasoned.
“You could say coulda, shoulda, woulda but that doesn’t do us any good,” he stressed.
“The guys who chose to play other places, I wish them well and hope it works out for them.”
As for the Muskies’ defensive corps, “victory lap” rearguard Max Williams and Grade 12 returnee Connor Tibbs bring their wealth of experience to the table, along with Grade 11 veteran Mike Drouin.
They will be joined by Grade 10 rookies Colton Bodnar, who was an alternate player on the roster last year, Byron Stewart, and Cole Allan.
It’s not the most physically-imposing group as a whole but Davis isn’t losing any sleep over that, either.
“They’re smart kids,” he lauded. “I’m more worried about the six inches between their ears.
“That’s more important than being big players.”
Between the pipes, the lion’s share of the responsibility will rest on the shoulders of Grade 12 returnee Dylan Ossachuk, who split time last season with the now-departed Jordan Carlson.
Joining Ossachuk in goal will be Grade 10 newcomer Matt Booth, who currently is sidelined with a broken collarbone suffered earlier this month while playing for the Muskie football team.
Davis wasn’t outright in committing to Ossachuk as his go-to guy, though.
“I wouldn’t say that for sure,” he remarked. “If both play well and are doing what is asked, they’ll both play.
“My thinking has always been if you’re giving me a reason to put you out there, then I’ll put you out there,” Davis noted.
“If you’re not, then I won’t.”
Davis has established an environment of on-ice discipline that has served the Muskies well in recent seasons.
“As far as the league goes, we were the least penalized team in NorWOSSA last year,” he said.
“Our discipline has been very good the last couple of years.
“But you never know from today to tomorrow,” Davis admitted.
“There are so many varieties of ways in which penalties can be called.”
Fort High’s first opportunity to display its talents will be Nov. 15 in Warroad as part of the host Warriors’ 22nd-annual “Scrimmagefest.”
It replaces the exhibition series between the Muskies and Thunder Bay ‘AAA’ Minor Midget Kings that has launched Fort High’s competitive calendar the last couple of years.
That series now will be held in January because the Kings have new schedule obligations this fall having just joined the North American Prospects Hockey League.
The NorWOSSA regular season begins the following week, although official dates for the Muskies’ games were not available as of press time.