Pity the foe who takes these Muskies lightly for they are intent on proving last season was an aberration.
Fort High carries the No. 11 seed into the 16-team field for the OFSAA 'A/AA' girls' hockey championship that begins next Wednesday (March 22) in Stratford.
And that suits veteran defenceman Avery Cates just fine.
“Sometimes seeds are not always accurate,” said Cates, one of six holdovers from the 2015 team that claimed OFSAA silver in Kenora and one of 11 players who were part of the squad that finished 12th at the all-Ontarios last year in Stratford after being seeded fourth going in.
“Maybe we can surprise some people with how well we could do,” she reasoned.
“We're all super-excited and ready to go," added Cates. ”We want to redeem ourselves from last year and see if we can do some damage.
“It's exciting for both the first-year players all the way up to the ones in Grade 12.”
The Muskies will have a prime opportunity to exact revenge on the two teams responsible for their demise the past two years.
First up at 7 a.m. (CDT) on Wednesday is the sixth-ranked Lambton Lancers (Petrolia), who erased a 2-0 deficit en route to a 3-2 win over the Muskies in the OFSAA consolation semi-finals last year.
“It's a chance to redeem ourselves,” reiterated Cates.
“We can push it that extra mile and go where we didn't go last year.”
That game will be critical to the Muskies' chances of advancing to the medal round by finishing in the top two of the pool as their next two opponents are on opposite ends of the seeding spectrum.
Following Lambton will be an 11:30 a.m. (CDT) showdown against the 16th-ranked Iona Dolphins (Mississauga).
“We can't underestimate any team,” Cates stressed.
“We have to go in with the mindset that we still need to work hard and make plays.”
The Muskies then will cross swords next Thursday at 8 a.m. (CDT) against the two-time defending champion and top-seeded host team, the St. Michael Warriors from Stratford, in what will be a rematch of the 2015 gold-medal game in Kenora.
Cates relishes the opportunity to stare the favourites right in the eyes and see if they will be the ones to blink this time.
“Anytime we get to play them, it will be good,” the blueliner remarked.
“They were a nice team to play against from what I remember in Grade 9,” she added.
“It's good to up against the really good teams because that's what makes you better.”
Unlike recent years, that game could be the end of the line for the Muskies as there is no consolation bracket at OFSAA this season.
Cates isn't concerned about the extra-early start times for the games against the Lancers and Warriors.
“Before we were Muskies, many of us all had early mornings when we played with 'AAA' teams,” she chuckled.
“We can handle it.”
The rest of the top five seeds include the second-ranked Grimsby Eagles (Grimsby), followed by the College Notre-Dame Alouettes (Sudbury), the St. Theresa Titans (Belleville), and the Anderson Raiders (Whitby).
Muskie head coach Todd Hamilton is making the best of having to travel to Stratford two years in a row.
“As a player, it's a good thing to have some familiarity in a situation like that,” he reasoned.
“We're staying in the same hotel we did last year and we know the practice arena," he noted. ”It can't hurt.
“We want the players to just look at it as a year-end tournament and treat it like that,” added Hamilton.
“We'll do the best that we can and the results we'll take care of themselves as long as the effort is out there.”
A fast start each game will be essential to the Muskies' hopes.
“You can't wait for the third period to ramp up your game,” Hamilton warned.
"You've got three 15-minute periods with one flood in the middle and a five-minute warm-up.
“You have to be ready to go at the puck drop and come out of the chute hard right away,” he stressed.
“Last year we didn't, but we'll be looking to remedy that.”
Muskie captain Janelle Kaemingh had the last word on the challenge ahead—several, in fact, and none of them unclear.
“We have been preparing ourselves for hard teams like that, knowing we've been beat by them before,” noted the veteran Grade 12 forward.
“We know what to work on and use our strengths to their weaknesses,” she stressed.
“We don't plan on going all the way down there to just [expletive] the bed, as Todd would say,” Kaemingh added.
“This is what we have worked for all season and we plan to come out strong, and hopefully end the season on a good note.”