They put the effort in and got rewarded in the end.
The Muskie boys' hockey team compiled a 3-0-1 record en route to winning the 'B'-side title at the annual Piper Classic Tournament of Champions held in Winnipeg Friday through Sunday.
Although his squad had higher aspirations in wanting to play on the 'A'-side, Muskie head coach Chris Sinclair was proud of the efforts of his players over the weekend.
“I thought as a team we have been playing some of our best hockey and it's because we have everyone playing at their best right now,” he lauded.
"So it's not just the guys you'd expect to be leading the team, it's everyone. I thought both of our goalies played well each game throughout the weekend.
“I thought guys like Mikel and Josh Ward have been playing some of their best games as of late,” he praised.
“Guys like Jaxon Gartzke and Declan Webb are playing with more and more confidence each game, which is evident in their play. So it's really hard to answer a question about who stood out, when the coaching staff truly believes that the play of everyone combined has been the biggest stand out as of late.”
Fort High opened Pool 'D' play on Friday morning with a tough 6-5 overtime loss to the Shaftesbury Titans.
Despite holding onto a 3-1 lead at one point, the Muskies weren't able to withstand the Titans' attack.
Jacob Albright (short-handed), Jace Dittaro, Brady Bodnarchuk, Ashton Cousineau, and Mikel Ward all lit the lamp while Darian Klem suffered the loss between the pipes.
Then needing a win in regulation to claim top spot in Pool 'D', the Muskies came up just short of that goal as they pulled out a 3-2 overtime win against the Collège Jeanne-Sauve Olympiens (Winnipeg) that afternoon.
Peyton Avis scored a natural hat trick to pace the Muskies' offence while Jaden Cooper was stellar in net to garner the win.
“I thought we played really well each game in Winnipeg,” Sinclair enthused.
"I thought the first game, just wasn't our game to win. They got all the bounces and we just had no puck luck.
“After losing in overtime in our first game, we had to win in regulation to finish first in our pool,” he noted.
“After battling back from [being down] 2-0, we were able to take the game into overtime where we eventually won. But that put us one point short of first in our pool, meaning we would end up in the 'B'-side.”
The black-and-gold next squared off against the Dakota Lancers in the 'B'-side semifinals on Saturday morning, riding the strength of Avis's two-goal performance to a decisive 5-1 win.
Josh Ward, Declan Webb, and captain Reed Bodnar provided the other goals for the Muskies while Klem was excellent in earning the win between the pipes.
That win put the Muskies into the championship game on Sunday morning, where they dumped the Lord Selkirk Royals 4-1 to snare the title.
Despite losing defenceman Connor Nelson to a groin injury heading into the contest, the Muskies came together and got the job done.
Jaxon Gartzke, Bodnar and Avis (two) all tallied in the third period to pace the offence while Cooper shut the door in goal to secure the win.
“Both our semifinal and final game, I thought we controlled the game,” Sinclair said.
"We allowed both teams to hang in the game, but eventually we were able to take control in the third period of both games. As mentioned, I thought we have been playing our best hockey of the year right now.
“It seems like everything is starting to come together,” he lauded.
Avis had a stellar showing in Winnipeg, finishing as the tourney's leading scorer with seven goals and three assists in the four games.
He also was named to the tournament's all-star team.
“He's someone who we had high expectations for at the beginning of the year and he has just gotten better and better throughout the year,” Sinclair said of the forward.
"Looking at his stats, he's obviously a gifted player offensively.
“But he's much more than that," he stressed. "He is someone who is not only out there to play in the offensive zone, but he also kills penalties, takes faceoffs in our own zone, and plays in all key situations throughout the game. ”
Sinclair feels as though Avis is a difference-maker out on the ice mainly because of his work ethic and that every time he is on the ice, he is making something happen.
“And what has impressed me the most about him thus far is his strength on the puck,” Sinclair noted.
“He's not the biggest kid out there, but he makes it really difficult for anyone to knock him off the puck. It was no surprise that he was named to the tournament all-star team in Winnipeg this past weekend.”
The Muskies, who currently sport a perfect 8-0 record in NorWOSSA play, were slated to resume league action last night when they welcomed the Kenora Broncos to the Ice For Kids Arena for their final game before a few week break for exams (the outcome wasn't known as of press time).
It was also the team's annual “Parents' Night” game, honouring the parents for their contributions to the program and their sons hockey careers.
“The focus is exactly that, we have one more game before the [exam] break,” Sinclair said.
“We need to prepare for tomorrow and not look past this game, regardless of what the score was against them last time, or where they are in the standings.”