Saturday, October 25, 2014

OFSAA thriller special for Muskie boys

Jamie Davis didn’t know what to expect on his first trip to the OFSAA ‘AA’ boys’ hockey championship, held last week in Burlington/Oakville.
That would include witnessing a comeback of legendary proportions that will be talked about by local high school hockey fans for years to come.

The fifth-seeded Muskies made their first OFSAA quarter-final appearance since winning their last championship in 2001 by pulling off a spine-tingling 5-4 comeback win over the third-ranked Robert F. Hall Catholic Secondary School Wolfpack (Caledon) last Wednesday night to win Pool ‘G’ with a 3-1 record.
The thrill ride came to a screeching halt the following morning with a 6-1 loss to the fourth-ranked Haliburton Highlands Secondary School Red Hawks in the quarter-finals, which sent Fort High home from its 34th appearance at the tournament.
But the difficult finish didn’t take away from the storybook rally the previous day.
“That was one of the neatest things to be a part of,” said Davis.
The Muskies erased a 4-1 deficit with less than 10 minutes to play with a goal by Cole Tymkin, two power-play markers from Tyler VanUden, and the game-winner on a rocket of a wrist shot from the point by captain Carter Brown—all in a span of four minutes.
“What made us most happy as coaches was that the boys never gave up on it,” Davis remarked.
“They still believed they could do it.
“Let’s be honest,” added Davis. “At that point, you know the odds are stacked against you.
“But we got the quick one from Tymkin and then the first power-play goal from VanUden, and we were telling ourselves, ‘We can do this.’”
Long-time Muskie coach Ken Christiansen said he had never seen such a comeback in all his time behind the bench.
“We went nuts at the end,” recalled Tymkin, the lone Grade 9 player to make the team out of training camp and whose own point shot kick-started the third-period drama.
“It was pretty emotional in the dressing room.”
The Muskies beat the No. 18th-ranked Timmins High and Vocational School Blues 12-1 in their opener last Tuesday morning, then lost 4-0 to the 15th-ranked Anne & Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy Tigers (Toronto) later that day in a gut-wrenching
defeat that saw them outshoot the Tigers 44-10.
With the season now behind him, Davis got an inside look at what it will take to compete against the top-calibre ‘AA’ high school teams in the province.
“[Christiansen] and I talked after seeing it all, and we know we have to do things slightly different to give ourselves an honest chance the next time we get there,” the first-year Muskie head coach admitted.
“I thought the kids played outstanding but it’s tough to go all the way,” he noted.
“You’ve got to play seven games in four days and it’s tough to play at that level, especially twice a day.”
That became readily apparent in the loss to Haliburton on Thursday morning.
The Red Hawks were up 2-0 after the first. Then when Curits Ballantyne chased starting goalie Derek Kaemingh with his second of the game on a short-handed breakaway late in the second for a 5-0 lead, it was all but over.
“We didn’t play up to our capability in the morning game,” Davis admitted.
“We didn’t have that jump we normally do.
“Possibly it was because of the game the day before but Haliburton did a good job on the defensive side of the puck, taking away time and space,” he noted.
“They played well and capitalized on their chances, and didn’t give us much.”
The Red Hawks made it 6-0 before Graeme Kitt netted his team-high fifth goal of the tournament with nine seconds left to deny Haliburton goalie Brayden Frost the shutout.
“They were better than us that day,” said Davis.
“But 6-1 better? No way.”
The Muskies will lose six players to graduation, including Brown, Aaron McDowall, and Josh Gouin on defence, Jack Hamilton and Braden Webb up front, and Kaemingh from between the pipes.
That may not be the only roster upheaval, either.
“We’ll have a strong enough group eligible to come back to take another shot at it, but there’s also guys who are going to look at other options,” Davis said, referring to possible player moves to the junior ranks or elsewhere.
But that’s not keeping Tymkin from possessing an abundance of optimism for next season.
“I definitely think we can go all the way,” he enthused.

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