Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Muskie boys survive nail-biter

Soccer doesn’t have an artistic impression element so Shane Beckett wasn’t worrying about style points.
“It doesn’t matter how you win it as long as you win it,” said the relieved head coach of the Muskie boys’ soccer team, which now can boast four-straight NorWOSSA crowns after surviving a penalty-kick shootout to nip the Dryden Eagles 3-2 (4-2 in the shootout) last Wednesday in Kenora.

“We had unconditional faith that we were going to win,” added Beckett, whose team headed to Leamington for the OFSAA ‘AA’ boys’ championship that runs tomorrow through Saturday.
That faith was tested throughout the match as the Muskies’ perfect 6-0 record during the regular season didn’t seem to faze an Eagles’ team that led twice in regulation time and once more in the shootout.
Dryden scored on a 30-yard shot that caught keeper Ben Whitburn in no-man’s land only three minutes into the game.
“I was too high in my box and it caught me by surprise,” noted Whitburn, who would get his chance at redemption later in the game.
The Muskies tied it in the 38th minute when Ian Jodoin converted a cross behind Dryden keeper Brady Desserre to knot the game heading to halftime.
Then five minutes into the second half, Dryden again dialled long distance—using a free kick from centre to again catch Whitburn out of position to lead 2-1.
Surrender was not in the black-and-gold’s vocabulary on this day, though.
Just four minutes later, Jarred Taylor sprinted down the left side and lofted a pinpoint cross to Max Williams.
The penalty-kick specialist one-timed a header from the right side of the 18-yard box that found its target in the form of Tyler Ruppenstein’s own head on the goal line, who redirected it in for the equalizer.
That forced overtime, with each team getting a glorious chance in each of the two 10-minute overtime halves.
Braden Webb nearly ended it in the first overtime but couldn’t quite get Ruppenstein’s feed off a header past Desserre.
Then it was Whitburn’s turn to play robber in the second session—stoning an Eagle shooter point blank to keep the Muskies’ season alive.
The shootout saw the Muskies get the first opportunity, but Desserre dove to knock away Derek Kaemingh’s try.
Brandon Bartlett then beat Whitburn to the left side to put the Eagles in front.
Williams and Dryden’s Ryan Hron traded goals in the second round before Ruppenstein hammered a shot off Desserre’s hands and in to tie the shootout.
That’s when Whitburn rose to the occasion—diving to stop Joel Zeiroths’ attempt to give the Muskies momentum once again.
Jodoin improved his team’s spirits by catching Desserre going the wrong way and putting it into the open right side for a 3-2 lead.
Wyatt Gouliquer then tried the direct approach on Dryden’s next attempt, but Whitburn read it the whole way and shot up his hands to block the ball.
That put matters in the hands (or, more accurately, the right foot) of Cam Lidkea, who excelled as a Grade 9 place-kicker for the Muskie football team last fall and was put into the final by Beckett with only a few minutes left in overtime for this exact purpose.
Lidkea barely could contain himself waiting for the referee’s whistle, then drove a howitzer to the left side of the net past Desserre—leading to a stampede of jubilant Muskies to midfield, followed by Lidkea sprinting away from the mob while tugging emphatically on his jersey with uninhibited joy.
“I had no clue this was going to be the outcome of my season when it started,” said Lidkea.
“Coach talked to me beforehand and asked if it goes to penalty kicks, would I be willing to kick,” he added.
“I said yes, definitely.
“In practice, I worked on just picking my spot and go with that spot and hit is as hard as I can,” Lidkea noted.
“Just aim for a corner and hit it so hard the goalie can’t get there fast enough.”
Beckett, meanwhile, had nothing but adulation for his rookie hero.
“What do you say about Cam Lidkea?” he remarked.
“We wish we could get him out there more but we’re already so strong at the centre midfield position, it’s tough to get him in there.
“But that was just such a clutch kick,” Beckett added.
The Muskies now head to Leamington looking for their first win in their four-year OFSAA run, which has been strewn with mostly losses and only two ties.
“If we don’t have the experience now for an OFSAA run, we’re never going to get it,” Beckett conceded.
“I’ve got 20 guys who have been there before and I’ll match that up against any other team at the tournament,” he stressed.
Fort Frances, which is seeded outside the top eight, is in Pool ‘A’ and will open play tomorrow at 11 a.m. (all times CDT) against a stiff test—or perhaps not.
The Ecole secondaire catholique l’Essor Aigles (Tecumseh) are ranked No. 1 in the tournament after winning the SWOSSAA title.
But the Aigles actually were an underdog heading into their conference playoffs and rode several upsets to the championship, with their high seeding based more on the strong performance of SWOSSAA teams at OFSAA over the last five years.
Whatever the case, Beckett welcomes the challenge.
“Love it,” he replied when asked of his thoughts on facing the top-ranked team right off the bat.
“Let’s see what we are made of,” Beckett noted.
“Last year in our first game, we lost a very tight game 1-0 to the team that won it all [the St. Martin Mustangs from Mississauga].”
Next up will be the unseeded Holy Trinity Catholic Secondary Titans (Courtice) tomorrow at 2 p.m.
On Friday, the Muskies will face the unseeded Jean Vanier Catholic High School Jaguars (Richmond Hill) at 8:30 a.m., then wrap up preliminary play against No. 7 St. Joseph’s High School Rams (St. Thomas) at 11:30 a.m.
“We have played St. Joseph’s a couple of times in the past,” noted Beckett.
“They are a nice team that is very well-coached.
“We have been in a couple of really tight games with them and have probably been deserving of at least one [positive] result,” he added.
The top two teams from each pool advance to the quarter-finals later Friday.
The semi-finals will go Saturday at 8 a.m., with the bronze-medal game slated for noon.
The championship game is set for 12:30 p.m.
“The guys have to believe in their abilities and play like they can,” stressed Beckett, who will be without Webb (school obligations) and keeper Cole Tymkin (hockey commitments) for OFSAA.
“It will hurt not to have those guys there, both on and off the field,” he admitted.
“We can’t just be happy to be there,” Beckett added. “We can make the playoff round this time.”

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