It literally took all night for the Muskie girls’ hockey team to get home.
But the arduous journey back was done with the knowledge a clear statement had been made.
The black-and-gold gave a fearsome preview of what likely awaits the Sioux Lookout Warriors in the upcoming NorWOSSA playoffs with a 14-0 shellacking of their hosts in their regular-season finale Sunday.
These same two teams will meet in a best-of-three semi-final showdown starting tonight at 7:15 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The most frightening part of the trip was the ride back as the team bus broke down after midnight halfway down Highway 502.
“The bus died in a dead zone for cell service,” head coach Todd Hamilton recalled Monday after his team didn’t reach home until 7:15 a.m. after having left Sioux Lookout at 9:45 p.m.
“We had to wait for a plow truck to use his two-way radio to order a new bus,” noted Hamilton.
“The heat was minimal on the bus,” he added.
“We were lucky it wasn’t 30-below [Celsius].
The top-ranked Muskies (15-1) are on a 10-game league winning streak and will be overwhelming favourites against the fourth-place Warriors (4-11-0-1), who lost all four games to Fort High this season by a combined score of 54-1.
Those numbers made all the more intriguing comments from Warriors’ co-coach Jason McMillen in last week’s edition of the Sioux Lookout Bulletin, which seem to have caught the Muskies’ attention.
“We’re more than capable of beating any team,” he had said.
“We’re going into the playoffs knowing we can beat Fort Frances.”
The Muskies proved that may be much easier said than done after their offensive display Sunday that was one goal shy of their best output this season.
“I give Sioux Lookout credit, they played very well and early in the first gave us all that we could handle,” noted Hamilton.
“It was their short bench that hurt them a bit.
“But the score was not indicative of the game,” he added.
“They really worked hard and they have a lot of pride over there.”
Annalise Hayes had a hat trick as part of a five-point night, which Emma Noga matched with a goal and four assists.
Muskie captain Rachel Jean and Rylee Redford each had two goals and two assists while Janelle Kaemingh and Taylor Croswell also bulged the twine twice.
Abby Plourde and Siobhan Mackintosh also tallied as 13 different Muskies came away with at least one point.
Sydney Beck made 18 saves for her league-high sixth shutout in what has been a terrific rookie season for the Grade 10 netminder.
Kyla Kulchyski started in goal for the Warriors but finally was pulled mercifully for Alex Morin after Redford’s second goal midway through the third made it 11-0.
Hamilton was pleased with the defensive work of his team, especially with regular blueliners Lauren Vold and Sara Jackson absent due to personal obligations.
He also cited his spread-out scoring attack, focusing on the line of Kaemingh, Croswell, and Hamilton.
“That line moved the puck around very well,” said Hamilton, who will count on the trio to provide secondary scoring during the playoffs behind the team’s most productive trio in Hayes, Jean, and Noga.
“We want to have balance in our lines and this is their second full year together,” he remarked.
“They have really responded.”
Noga wasn’t interested in talking about any possible NorWOSSA final opponent until the job gets done against Sioux Lookout first.
“We go into each game the same way and plan on working our hardest,” said the third-year forward.
“Every team we play against, it’s a different kind of game every time we face them,” she noted.
“We have to keep our feet moving and get lots of shots at the net.”
Redford, meanwhile, has the scouting report on Sioux Lookout memorized at this point of the season.
“They’ve got a couple of fast skaters and their goalies are very good,” she said.
“We must have had 10 point-blank chances on [Kulchyski] and didn’t score,” agreed Hamilton.
“Their goaltenders play great against us and we have to be aware of that.
“When we get scoring chances, we have to capitalize,” he stressed.
“We don’t want them to heat up.”
Game 2 is set for Friday in Sioux Lookout, with Game 3 (if necessary) back here Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the ‘52 Canadians Arena.
In the other semifinal that also starts tonight, the No. 2-ranked Dryden Eagles (11-4-0-1) will have home-ice advantage over the third-place St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (10-6).
But the Saints carry a truckload of momentum into the series, having beat the Eagles two out of the last three times they met this season.