While Red Lake Falls, Mn. may seem like an unlikely opponent for the black-and-gold, their exhibition game there Saturday will pit a former Muskie against his old team.
It’s been more than 10 years since O.J. Kennett helped lead the Muskies to all-Ontario gold back in 1986. And while his playing and coaching career has since taken him to places like Thunder Bay, Bemidji and Red Lake Falls, he still remembers the storied tradition of high school hockey here in Fort Frances.
That’s why Kennett and former Muskie head coach Terry Ogden decided to start a new tradition of playing exhibition games between the two teams last season.
"I talked to Terry last year and he said they were always looking to play teams in the [U.S.] to complement their schedule," Kennett said yesterday morning from Red Lake Falls, located about 112 km west of Bemidji.
"This game should be a lot of fun and that’s why we set it up," he added.
But what hasn’t been so fun for the Muskies so far this season has been their battles with U.S. teams. They are a disappointing 1-4 (including a 6-1 loss in Baudette last Thursday)--and things won’t get any easier against the 11-3-1 Red Lake Falls squad.
"We’re a more balanced team than in the years past," said Kennett, an NCAA all-American while playing at Bemidji State in 1992. "We have three really good players that have been looked at by some junior colleges."
Last year’s battle between the two teams resulted in a 2-2 tie here, and Kennett said he expects another tough game Saturday.
"The game we played against the Muskies last year was very physical," noted Kennett, in his fourth year at the helm of Red Lake Falls. "Our league here sometimes gets physical but nothing like it was [in that game] last year."
Kennett said he expects the Muskies will try to play another hard-hitting affair this time around. But predicted his team should be able to better handle the black-and-gold if they decide to get physical.
And that’s exactly the style the Muskies intend to throw against Red Lake Falls, assistant coach Jason Kabel said yesterday.
"We were physical in Baudette but not until after the first period when they went up 3-0," he noted. "We want to lay the body, crash-and-bang, and try to slow them down."
In fact, the Muskies were down 5-0 to Baudette midway through the second before Chuck Arpin broke Eric Lindquist’s shutout bid at 8:05 of the period, assisted by Ryan Armstrong.
Kabel said the Muskies played a lot better against the Bears once they became physical.
But Kabel also admitted he would like the black-and-gold to speed up their movement with the puck.
"We want to speed up our break-out and our forecheck," he stressed, adding the Muskies will need to do just that if they want to keep pace with Red Lake Falls.
After Saturday’s game in Red Lake Falls, the Muskies next travel to Winnipeg for the annual John Piper Taylor Classic slated Jan. 29-31.
The 4-7 Muskies, sitting in fourth place in NorWOSSA, don’t resume league action until Feb. 3 when the 1-9 Sioux Lookout Warriors invade Memorial Arena.