The Thunder Bay Midget 'AAA' Kings may have been crowned in the end but the Muskie boys' hockey team gave them all they could handle.
Thunder Bay came away with a 2-1 edge in a three-game exhibition series between the two sides over the weekend here but the Muskies more than proved themselves against a tough opponent.
After dropping the opener by a 6-1 count on Saturday afternoon at “The Duke” (Couchiching Arena), the black-and-gold responded with a 4-3 win that evening at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Then in the series finale on Sunday morning, the Kings rallied late to snatch a 4-2 victory at the '52 Canadians Arena.
“I was pretty happy for the most part with how we played throughout this weekend,” said Muskie head coach Chris Sinclair after Sunday's loss.
"I thought we played with speed, I thought we played with intensity, I thought we did a good job of moving our feet and competing at the high level that the 'AAA' Kings do compete at.
“We kinda played with them in all three games throughout the weekend,” he enthused.
“I think that both teams were matched up evenly, they got a few more breaks than we did. But overall I thought we played very well, especially for our first games and that's only going to benefit us moving forward.”
The Muskies got a good glimpse of what they would be in for over the weekend right from the get-go in the opener on Saturday afternoon at “The Duke”.
After the Kings opened the scoring on a 2-on-1 chance in the first period, the Muskies tied it later in the frame when Ashton Cousineau buried the rebound of Peyton Avis's shot to knot it at 1-1 after 17 minutes.
That good fortune didn't last for Fort High, however, as the Kings added a trio of goals in the second to forge ahead 4-1.
Thunder Bay then potted a pair of tallies in the third to round out the scoring. Jaden Cooper allowed all six goals in taking the loss for the Muskies.
But the Muskies didn't let that loss get them down and exacted some revenge in Game 2 that evening at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The black-and-gold also held a special pre-game ceremony to honour all of the contributions that Terry and Barb Ogden have made to the Muskie program over the years, capped off by a ceremonial faceoff between the captains of both teams.
The Muskies were able to strike first in that one as Brady Bodnarchuk fired one home from the slot to open the scoring less than five minutes into the first, with Jacob Albright and Kaden Kocuiba drawing assists on the play.
Then with 7:40 to go in the frame Sheldon Kelly pounced on a Kings' turnover in their own zone before skating out front and roofing a backhander over the shoulder of the Thunder Bay goalie to double the lead.
But not to be outdone, the Kings struck back with a three unanswered goals on Muskie goalie Darian Klem to forge ahead 3-2 after two periods of play.
In the third, Mikel Ward buried a feed from Kelly just under seven minutes in to knot it up once again.
Then with 6:43 to go in regulation, Albright potted the winner for the Muskies, with Kocuiba earning the lone assist.
“What stood out the most was probably our forecheck,” said Sinclair.
“We did a good job of getting the pucks in deep and creating pressure on them, creating turnovers, and that's where the majority our goals came from this weekend was turning the puck over in the offensive zone, getting pucks to the net, and using our skill, using our speed, and our size especially to create those turnovers and create opportunities for us.”
In the series finale on Sunday morning at the '52 Canadians Arena, a determined black-and-gold squad got out to a great start as the Muskies opened the scoring in the first on a power play near the 10-minute mark, courtesy of Ward.
After the Kings tied it up with 1:36 to go in the frame, Ward connected on another power play in the second to put Fort High back ahead 2-1.
Jace Dittaro and Albright drew the assists.
But the Kings came back with a vengeance in the third period, taking advantage of some undisciplined play by the Muskies in potting a pair of power-play goals and an even-strength tally past Cooper to steal the win and claim the series.
“I thought both goalies played pretty well for the most part throughout the weekend,” Sinclair lauded of both Cooper and Klem.
"In our first game, for Cooper there was a couple of bad bounces that he'd probably like to have back but I mean that's gonna happen with any goalie.
“I thought Cooper did a good job of shaking it off and bouncing back and playing very solid for us,” he lauded.
“Klem obviously played very well for us on Saturday night, giving us the opportunity to hold onto the lead and come out with the victory. So yeah, I'm very confident in both of our goalies moving forward, there's no real No. 1 right now,” Sinclair noted.
“They do a good job of pushing each other and competing with each other and pushing themselves to be the best that they can.”
The Muskies next will be in action next Tuesday (Nov. 12) when they open the NorWOSSA regular season on the road in Kenora against the Broncos.