It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was ugly at times.
But who says you have to play pretty to win, and the Muskies played well enough in spurts to sweep the Red Lake Rams 2-0 in their best-of-three NorWOSSA semi-final series last weekend.
They now move on to the best-of-three NorWOSSA final against either Dryden or Sioux Lookout, which gets underway here Friday night.
The Muskies, 14-2 in the regular season, were heavily favoured to beat the fourth-place Rams but Red Lake gave the black-and-gold everything they could handle—and more.
The Muskies clinched the series with a thrilling 6-5 win Sunday afternoon in Red Lake that came on the heels of a 5-4 overtime victory here last Friday.
It was a gutsy effort Sunday for the black-and-gold, who were without the services of the league’s leading scorer in Brad Gushulak (bruised wrist), as well as Steve Baker (chicken pox), Gary Curtis (broken collarbone), and Ryan Armstrong (shoulder).
Both games saw the Muskies grab early leads only to see Red Lake claw their way back. But head coach Glen Edwards said he was glad the Rams gave give his team a good series, and hoped the close games will help them in the league final.
He felt the fact Red Lake struggled in the first period in both games, especially the second one Sunday, was the difference in the series.
“The big thing was Red Lake didn’t play in the first period [Sunday] like they did in Fort Frances,” said Edwards, who was ejected late in the game after protesting a delay-of-game penalty.
“They let us do what we do best, which is pass the puck and move it out of our zone,” he noted.
In fact, the Muskies jumped out to a 3-0 Sunday before the game was 13 minutes old. Ross Anderson scored the first of four power-play goals at 9:31 of the period, followed just 1:13 later when Steve Keesic tallied.
Jon Lloyd added another power-play marker with 7:09 left in the period, scoring just after a Red Lake player returned to the ice to negate the Muskies’ two-man advantage.
Edwards said their power play “wasn’t pretty” in the series but effective in scoring several goals from scrambles and by picking up loose pucks in front of the net.
The Muskies made it 4-0 in the second on a goal by Chris Kellar but Red Lake finally got on the scoreboard when Mark Roberson beat Muskie starter Blake Carlson.
Muskie captain Chuck Arpin and Red Lake’s Curtis Lawson then traded goals later in the period to give the black-and-gold a 5-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Anderson scored his second of the game just 34 seconds into the third, again with the man advantage, which gave the Muskies what seemed to be a comfortable 6-2 lead.
But Red Lake started their comeback bid at 3:43 of the period when Ryan Pickard scored his first of two goals. Curtis Lawson netted his second of the game with 3:05 to play to pull Red Lake to within 6-4.
Then Pickard brought the home crowd to its feet when he scored during a two-man advantage with 1:25 left to pull the Rams to within one.
“It was an even-up call for one that went to our advantage earlier,” Edwards said of the delay-of-game penalty that led to the late power play—and caused him to be ejected when he protested against it.
“But I was frustrated that they would give us a delay-of-game penalty with a minute-and-a-half left that gave [the Rams] a two-man advantage,” he added.
Edwards also felt the officiating in the series allowed the lesser-talented Rams to keep pace with the high-powered offence of the Muskies.
“In the playoffs, the referees change [their style] and let more stuff go. Teams get away with more of the interference and holding,” he noted.
But while Sunday’s win was exciting, Friday’s was just as intense as the black-and-gold needed the overtime heroics of Tyler Coyle, who netted his third goal of the game with just 24 seconds left in the 10-minute extra period.
It was the Muskies’ first goal since the 12:50 mark of the first—a scoreless drought that was almost impossible to fathom considering the Muskies had built up a 3-1 lead less than four minutes into the game.
Coyle opened the scoring just 1:34 in but Red Lake’s Scott McKean tied it up at 1-1 just over a minute later.
Coyle made it 2-1 at 3:07 when he converted a nice pass from Gushulak in the slot. Then Anderson put the Muskies up 3-1 seconds later after he used his speed to fly past a stumbling Ram defenceman.
The game looked to be well on its way to being a rout until Red Lake’s Roberson sliced the Muskies’ lead to 3-2 at 10:48 of the period on a wraparound behind a startled Jamie Booth.
(Booth struggled a bit in the first—a rare occurrence for the rookie this season—and later was lifted at the start of the second for Blake Carlson).
Dwight Galusha put the Muskies ahead by two again off a draw at 11:50 of the first but the Rams once again pulled to within one when Pickard’s point shot found its mark with just eight seconds left in the wild period.
The Rams tied the score at 4-4 at 6:36 of the second when Peter McLeod converted a long blueline-to-blueline pass from Pickard, splitting a pair of Muskie defenders, to beat Carlson.
The third period was scoreless, setting up Coyle’s heroics late in overtime.
Edwards expected Gushulak, Armstrong, and Baker to be ready for the NorWOSSA final, and was rather optimistic Curtis would be back in the lineup for the all-Ontario championships March 24-28 in Dryden if the Muskies should advance.