In a game with no playoff implications, the Muskies and Dryden Eagles played a playoff-style hockey game here last Friday to wrap up the NorWOSSA regular season.
Both teams came out flying, with plenty of scoring chances, fine goaltending, and big hits to set the tempo for what likely will be a prelude of the NorWOSSA final for the second-straight year.
The Eagles looked like a different team than the one that was shellacked 7-1 by the Muskies up there just two weeks ago.
In fact, Dryden carried the play at times, especially in the first 30 minutes, despite eventually falling 5-3.
They were rewarded for their strong play early on when Mike McDonald snapped a scoreless tie on a breakaway with 4:01 left in the period. McDonald took a pass in full stride just inside centre ice and made a nifty backhand move to put the puck behind Muskie starter Blake Carlson.
Dryden seemed to get a boost from that first goal and played more of a rough-and-tumble style of game, trying to hit the black-and-gold at every turn.
“It was an old-fashion NorWOSSA hockey game,” Muskie head coach Glen Edwards said of the hard-hitting affair. “Dryden came to play and made a few adjustments.
“I actually thought it was a really good game, and it told us where we are at as a good playoff hockey team,” he added. “Dryden sort of took it to us at the mid-point of the second but we didn’t panic.”
The Muskies finally got on the scoreboard with 4:51 left in the second on the power play when David Lloyd put the puck past Eagle goalie Derrick Lerocq, who was screened by Tyler Coyle on a great individual effort in front of the net.
The Muskies picked up another power-play goal just 1:21 later when Steve Keesic handled a pass at centre ice, picked up speed, and split a pair of Eagle defencemen inside the blueline to score a beautiful goal that would put the Muskies up for good at 2-1.
With the play opening up much more in the third period, rookie Muskie forward Ross Anderson took charge, scoring twice and setting up the fifth goal by Adam McTavish on a nice cross-ice pass to seal the victory.
Dryden’s Ben Borton and Ben DeGroot scored in the third to keep the game close.
“Anderson is that type of player,” Edwards said. “He has good speed and good size, and he has the ability to break a game open.”
Anderson’s big third period gave him 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points through the 16-game regular season. Brad Gushulak, the league’s leading scorer, increased his point total to 43 with a pair of assists Friday night.
Despite the win, which gave the first-place Muskies a 14-2 record in NorWOSSA play, Edwards isn’t exactly sold on his team’s defensive play—despite allowing just five goals in their last three regular-season games.
In fact, Edwards said he’s prepared to make a change this Friday when the Muskies open their best-of-three semi-final series here against the fourth-place Red Lake Rams.
Captain Chuck Arpin, who has played several positions this season, including defence, will be moved back on the blueline to replace Chris Kellar.
Kellar, who was solid on the point in several games for the black-and-gold, will be moved up to forward to start the playoffs, and most likely will stay there as the Muskies gun for an all-Ontario berth.
“Arpin will be moved back on defence because we need more size back there, and we’ll try Kellar at forward because of the smaller rink in Red Lake,” Edwards noted.
“And when you take on teams in the all-Ontarios, they all have good, strong grade 13s up front,” he noted. “We have to be able to play physical back there [in our own zone] and it’s going to get tough in the corners.
“We have to be strong back there,” he stressed. “We still have a lot of questions.”
While the Muskies’ 2.44 goals against average in the regular season was tops in NorWOSSA, due in no small part to the solid play of rookie goalies Blake Carlson and Jamie Booth, Edwards said he would like to see the number of “quality chances” cut down.