A new season led to same old heartbreak for the Muskie boys' hockey team.
Ben Lavoie scored with 5:05 left in overtime to lift the second-place Sioux Lookout Warriors to a 3-2 win over the top-ranked Muskies in the third-and-deciding game of their NorWOSSA final Sunday afternoon at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The Warriors now advance to OFSAA for the second-straight year, which is slated for March 19-21 in Kincardine.
That result left a bitter taste in the Muskies' mouths, who also were defeated 4-3 in double-overtime in the deciding game of last year's final against those same Warriors here.
“Right before they scored, we had a couple of chances at their end and the puck finds its way behind the goalie and somehow doesn't get over the line,” Muskie head coach Jordan Sinclair said of the overtime frame.
"From where I was looking, the kid pulled it out and it couldn't have been more than six inches to a foot away from going in.
“We had chances before that," he added. ”The shift before our same group was out there and I thought they had some good chances.
"You see it so often where one team is generating lots of chances and can't find a way to get one to go, and then the first look the other team gets ends up in the back of the net.
“If I think back, we had a number of—probably three or four—2-on-1s and odd-man rushes that we just didn't execute on,” Sinclair lamented.
“Those are good scoring opportunities that we got nothing out of and, unfortunately, we came up just a little bit short today.”
Matthew Binguis opened the scoring for the Warriors early in the first period Sunday when his wrist shot from the point bounced off a Muskie defender and past Darian Klem.
The Muskies drew even on a man advantage in the second when Jake Barker redirected Connor Nelson's shot past Warriors' goalie Jaden Marshall.
But the visitors forged ahead later in the period when Damon Angees kept the puck on a 2-on-0 and sniped a shot off the crossbar and in over Klem with 3:55 to go.
The Muskies had some great chances to tie it as time was winding down in the frame but couldn't get one past Marshall.
Continuing to battle, Sheldon Kelly finally drew the Muskies level again with 15:47 to go in the third to force overtime.
Shortly after a face-off win in the Muskies' zone in the extra frame, Lavoie snapped the winner over Klem's pad to send the visitors—and their fans—into a frenzy as the Warriors claimed the NorWOSSA crown yet again.
The Muskies had gone into the third-and-deciding game fresh off a 5-1 loss in Game 2 on Friday night in Sioux Lookout.
Lavoie scored twice to help the hosts even the series and force Sunday's deciding game back here.
Cameron Bailey opened the scoring for the Warriors 3:57 into the first period when he snuck a shot past Klem.
Barker and Carson Noga then broke out on a 2-on-1 chance, with Barker collecting the rebound of his own shot and firing it past Marshall to knot it at 1-1 after 20 minutes.
But the Muskies' good fortune ran out from there. Lavoie netted his first of the night before Cortez also bulged the twine as the hosts made it 3-1 after 40 minutes.
Angees then tallied 2:17 into the third before Lavoie also lit the lamp just over two minutes later to cap the scoring.
“The finals as a whole, as a series, I thought was up-and-down for us,” Sinclair admitted.
“The second game we just didn't really have it," he noted. ”They [the Warriors] were definitely better than we were.
“Tonight [Sunday] I liked our game," Sinclair said. ”I thought we worked hard, I thought we skated well, and 5-on-5, I thought we controlled the play.
“I thought we were better than they were,” he added.
“Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the score just didn't reflect that.”
The Muskies had started the final off on the right foot by winning the opener 3-1 here last Wednesday night.
Ben Forbes opened the scoring for the Warriors with 9:40 left in the first period when he found some room in front of the Muskies' net before snapping one past Klem.
But the black-and-gold stormed back with a pair of markers early in the second.
Mikel Ward took the puck to the Warriors' net and although his initial shot was stopped, Peyton Avis was right there to bang the rebound past Marshall to knot it at 1-1.
Nelson then gave the Muskies their first lead a few shifts later when he took a pass from Kelly in the Warriors' zone and promptly fired it through Marshall's legs.
The visitors had a great chance to tie it later in the frame when a Warriors' player fed a crisp pass out to a teammate in the slot from the corner, but Klem sprawled out and denied it with a beauty of a save.
Noga and Barker then had a great chance to put the Muskies ahead by two as they broke out on a 2-on-0 but Marshall showed off his athleticism and kept the puck out.
After some sustained pressure from the Warriors led to the Muskies icing the puck, Sioux Lookout called a time-out with 1:39 to go in the third and opted to pull Marshall for an extra-attacker in an attempt to force overtime.
That plan failed as Cole Magill fired an empty-netter from the red line with 25.7 seconds left to cap the scoring.
Klem made 29 saves to earn the win while Marshall turned aside 40 shots in taking the loss.
Although it will take the Muskies some time to get over back-to-back series losses to the Warriors, the future is bright for the team.
Sinclair is hopeful his returning players will work to get stronger over the off-season and come into next season ready to make a run at returning to OFSAA.
“I thought they came together extremely well," he noted. ”That's something we've talked about as a group throughout the year and throughout this season.
“We started the year losing a lot of players from last year with either graduating or moving to different teams," Sinclair added. ”We had a big turnover with a lot of young faces.
“We're a very young team and I don't think that many people gave us much of a shot at the start of the year to win or to be back here [the final],” he admitted.
"I know I certainly was hopeful but not really expecting it.
“I figured it'd be a rocky road—and it was for the most part," Sinclair said. "But the team developed and improved immensely over the course of the year.”
Sinclair feels that growth was very encouraging and a real positive to draw from.
“You tell them that after the game and after the series, but I don't know if that makes them feel any better,” he conceded.
“[But] I'm extremely proud of them [and] they should extremely proud of themselves,” he lauded.
“They did themselves, their families, and the Muskie organization very proud this year.”