There are some things that are beyond the control of any coach or player.
The Muskie girls’ hockey team fell victim to illness—and injury—as they were swept in two-straight games by the Kenora Broncos in the best-of-three NorWOSSA semi-final over the weekend.
“We kind of went through the same thing last year but it was about two weeks earlier than it was this year,” co-coach Chris Hill lamented Monday.
“I don’t want to blame anything like injuries or sickness, but it was hard to get the team rolling and playing like they could,” he added. “I don’t think we were playing our best hockey as the playoffs rolled around.”
The Muskies got the post-season off to a nightmarish start here Friday night as they fell behind 5-0 by the midway point of the second period. The team rallied to cut the deficit to a goal, but ultimately fell by a score of 6-4—losing both the game and home-ice advantage.
“I think we took the season a bit for granted right at the end here, and from my perspective, we let Kenora back in the game with our performance on Friday even though we made a game of it at the end,” Hill explained.
“And then it was theirs to win up in Kenora.
The Muskies arrived in Kenora on Sunday night looking to force a third-and-deciding third game back on home ice Tuesday evening.
But a rash of penalties, and the team’s continued struggles with illness, were too much to overcome as they lost 3-1 and were eliminated from playoff contention.
“Everyone just got really sick,” Taylor Meyers noted. “In the first period of the game on Sunday, everyone was coughing and hacking on the bench.
“Someone had their medicine on the bench, and Kleenex and everything.
“We just weren’t healthy and 100 percent,” Meyers added. “We could have played a lot better.
“It’s frustrating because we beat them [Kenora[ all year except for once.”
Indeed, the Muskies owned a decisive 5-1 advantage in head-to-head match-ups against the Broncos during the regular season.
Sunday night’s game was particularly frustrating for Lauren Krukoski, the Muskies’ leading scorer.
A physical presence on the ice, Krukoski was one of several Muskies who spent a great deal of the game watching her teammates from the penalty box.
“The ref called everything she saw and everything she saw was against our side,” Krukoski charged. “We spent most of the night in the penalty box and then it just got frustrating from there on in.”
Meyers said the rash of penalties only served to further weaken the team.
“They [the coaches] only play a few people on penalty kills and it’s tough because everyone gets worn out,” she explained.
But while both Meyers and Krukoski did point to several factors that stacked the odds against them, they also were quick to credit the Broncos for playing an excellent series.
“I just think Kenora came out stronger and wanted it more,” Krukoski said. “Obviously, they outplayed us because we couldn’t keep up to them.
“I don’t think we were prepared for them to come out so strong,” she added. “We were running around and not playing our positions. We were trying to do too much, I think.”
“We kicked their [butts] all year but they wanted it more and they were a little bit more ready than us,” echoed Meyers.
Despite the disappointing playoff result, the future looks bright for the Muskie girls.
With the notable exceptions of team captain Carly Holt and Cortney Caldwell, the entire team is eligible to return next season—a fact that should allow the program to continue to improve.
“Every year in the last three years we’ve made new firsts,” Hill said. “Whether it was winning in Kenora, winning in Dryden, finishing in second this year and so on.
“Last year we won our first playoff game and I thought maybe this year we’d win our first playoff series,” he added.
“Hopefully we’ll learn from how we feel at the end of this season, wanting to play more, and we’ll be able to build on it.
“We’ve basically done everything we can up to this point in the league without winning the league,” Hill continued.
< *c>Game 1
As stated, the Muskies fell behind 5-0 to the Broncos through a period-and-a-half Friday night in front of their home-town fans.
However, the momentum of the game shifted when Krukoski was hauled down on a break-away. The referee wasted no time in pointing to centre ice, signalling for a penalty shot.
The Muskies’ leading scorer during the regular season (31 goals and 17 assists for 48 points), Krukoski swept into the Bronco zone, faked going to her forehand, and then lifted a backhand up and over Amanda Kowalik.
The black-and-gold then got a goal from the unlikeliest of sources.
Kristen Penner fed the puck back to Nicki Mosbeck, who was stationed on the point in the Bronco zone. The Muskie defender calmly side-stepped a charging Bronco before unleashing a hard shot that beat Kowalik to make it 5-2 after two.
The Muskie rally continued into the third period as Krukoski bulged the twine for the second time in the game.
Caldwell’s shot was stopped by Kowalik, but Holt and Krukoski were in perfect position to pounce on the rebound. After several whacks, Krukoski finally slipped it home to pull the Muskies to within two goals.
Minutes later, Miranda Kellar sprung Penner in alone on a break-away. The speedster brought Kowalik to her knees with a fake shot and then lifted the puck into the upper reaches of the net.
With the Muskies now within a goal of tying the game, Broncos’ coach David Craven called a time-out in an effort to stop the home team’s momentum.
The ploy worked to perfection as just seconds after the time-out, Bronco captain Jennifer Meisner flipped what appeared to be a harmless-looking shot on goal and it somehow eluded Muskie goalie Sara Trendiak.
Despite several quality scoring chances late in the contest, the Muskies could not score again and the Broncos held on for the 6-4 victory.
< *c>Game 2
After a scoreless first period Sunday night, Lindsay Agnew gave the Broncos a 1-0 lead while on the power play.
Trendiak stopped the initial Bronco drive but could not reposition herself in time to deflect Agnew’s blast and the black-and-gold trailed by a goal heading into the final period.
The Muskies’ penalty woes continued in the third as Holt was sent off for interference. And once again, it was Agnew who made the Muskies pay for their transgressions.
The Bronco assistant captain circled into the high slot uncontested and fired a high shot that beat Trendiak stick side to put her team up 2-0.
Any hopes of a Muskie comeback then were dashed as Jennifer Craven wired a hard slapshot that found its way through a crowd and beat a screened Trendiak to give the Broncos what would prove to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
The Muskies were able to spoil the shutout with 1:19 to go as Krukoski fed Holt the puck deep in the Bronco zone.
The Muskie captain circled behind the net and into the slot before firing a low shot that beat the Bronco netminder to the stick side.
The late goal would prove to be too little, too late, though, as the Broncos held on for a 3-1 victory and the series sweep.
They now will face the first-place Dryden Eagles for NorWOSSA gold.