Sometimes in sports, it simply comes down to the fact the opposing team is better than you are.
That was the case in the best-of-three NorWOSSA girls' hockey final between the Muskies and Eagles last week as Dryden swept the series 2-0 following a 5-1 win in Game 2 on Thursday night at the Ice For Kids Arena.
It marked the Eagles' first NorWOSSA title in nine years while Fort High was denied a sixth-straight trip to the all-Ontarios.
It wasn't for a lack of effort by the black-and-gold as the young squad battled hard against the more experienced Eagles.
The Muskies now are looking to the future while the Eagles advance to OFSAA, which is slated for March 18-21 in Midland.
“Dryden's a good team and we competed hard for both of the games,” Muskie head coach Chris Sinclair said after the Game 2 loss.
“Obviously, both games we wound up a little short but we can't blame ourselves,” he stressed.
“We can't question our effort," he added. ”I thought the girls battled right until the end.
“I thought the last period [of Game 2] was our best period and I thought the last five minutes was our best five minutes,” Sinclair lauded.
“It just goes to show the passion and the drive the girls have.”
Lauryn Loyer scored twice to pace the Dryden Eagles to the convincing win in Game 2.
Julia Jones opened the scoring for Dryden with 5:31 to go in the first period when her slapshot from the point beat Muskie goalie Jersey Masson.
Then with the Eagles killing a penalty, they chipped the puck out of their own zone and broke up the ice on a 2-on-1.
Meagan Lundmark then fed a pass to Maddie MacDonald, who skated around a Muskie defender before firing a short-handed marker past Masson to put the visitors up by two after 20 minutes.
Loyer collected the rebound of Camryn Dayman's shot in the slot before firing it home to make it 3-0 eight-and-a-half minutes into the second.
She then tallied again with 7:48 left in the frame as she cut down the left wing before blowing past a Muskie defender and tucking one past Masson to put Dryden ahead by four after 40 minutes.
Saige Macleod tipped in Hailee Lundmark's point shot with 5:51 left in the third to stake the visitors to a commanding five-goal cushion.
Alex Gartzke got one back for the Muskies with 3:28 to go as she banged at the rebound of Paiten Kinnear's shot until it bounced its way over Eagles' goalie Hannah Zilkalns to trim it to 5-1.
But that's as close as Fort High would get as Zilkalns shut the door from there.
“In terms of a line, I thought Jill [Calder] and Issy [Taylor] and Abbie [Kenny] . . . connected a lot and they were kind of our offensive kicks,” Sinclair noted.
“But in terms of standing out, it takes all 18 players to get through and that's what it took was all 18.”
The Eagles used a three-goal outburst in the third period to pull out a 3-1 win over the visiting Muskies in the series-opener last Tuesday night.
After both Masson and Zilkalns formed their versions of a brick wall throughout the first 40 minutes, Dryden finally opened the scoring 6:14 into the third period when Corissa Jensson bulged the twine.
MacDonald made it 2-0 just under a minute later when she tallied unassisted.
Kyla Calvert then staked the hosts to a three-goal cushion with 5:23 left when she finished off a feed from Macleod and Cali Lappage.
Calder finally put the Muskies on the board 28 seconds later on a feed from Kenny and Taylor, but that's as close as Fort High would get.
Zilkalns made 25 saves to earn the win while Masson turned aside 35 shots in taking the loss.
“I thought, at times, we got back to our old ways, especially in our defensive end by panicking and throwing the puck up,” Sinclair conceded.
"But whereas in the series with St. Thomas Aquinas, we had success by moving our feet and making passes and putting it to open ice.
“I don't know, the girls might have been gripping their sticks a little too tight [against the Eagles] or nerves, or anything like that,” he remarked.
“But it just seems that we wanted to throw the puck away up the wall, especially, and that's where we got into trouble.”
All things considered, a silver-medal finish for a Muskie squad that had the bulk of its roster comprised of Grade 9 players is impressive.
The black-and-gold will be losing captain Emily Kaun, Reece McQuaker, Gartzke, and Makenna Henttonen to graduation come June.
That means the squad will have 12 skaters plus two goalies returning next season, with an eye on improving and aiming to return to OFSAA.
“It was definitely a learning curve for myself and my coaching staff, we were all brand new,” Sinclair said about the season.
“As well, 14 of the girls were new girls to this team, 10 of them being in Grade 9, so I think moving forward, obviously, we'll see that this was a huge year for us,” he enthused.
“No one thought we would win a game against T.A. or that we would win a game against Dryden, and no one thought we'd be in the gold-medal game in NorWOSSA,” Sinclair added.
"So it just goes to show how much we have to look forward to in the next couple of years. And how excited I am to continue with these girls.
“Obviously, it's tough for the Grade 12s right now but, again, they did a great job of leading this new group and especially the Grade 9s,” he said.