How close have the Muskie girls’ hockey team and the Dryden Eagles been this season?
One thin dime probably couldn’t be fit between them.
What seemed to be the inevitable clash of the titans has come to pass as the first-place Muskies and second-place Eagles will square off in the best-of-three NorWOSSA final for the third-straight season.
Game 1 goes tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the ’52 Canadians Arena.
Fort High is the two-time defending champion and reigning provincial silver medalist.
But as has been the case the first two times, the series to decide who advances to the OFSAA ‘A/AA’ championship in Stratford from March 8-10 likely go right down to the wire.
“I think it’s going to come down to will,” said Muskie head coach Todd Hamilton, whose team qualified for the final after sweeping the fourth-place Sioux Lookout Warriors in the semi-finals (9-3 here last Thursday and then 13-0 there on Saturday).
“You’ve got two teams who are fairly evenly-matched,” he noted.
“It going to be about who’s going to play three full periods each game.”
Fort High took three of four games during their regular-season series that was all one-goal games—winning one in a shootout and another on a goal by leading scorer Annalise Hayes with just nine seconds to go.
The Muskie feature one player in triple digits for points (Hayes with 109) and eight others with 30 points or more in what has been a multi-layered scoring strategy that has worked almost to perfection.
“I don’t look at the stats too much,” admitted Hamilton.
“[Dryden] is a lot like us in that they get a lot of scoring out of their first two forward groups and they like to score from the defence position, and we do, too,” he remarked.
“It’s good for the league to have two evenly-matched teams going into the final.”
Darra Zieroth and Jess Carter have been the backbone of Dryden’s offence this season, with captain Sydney Allan always a threat to do damage from the point.
But the crucial mystery for the Muskies to solve will be Grade 12 goalie Jacquie Grandmont, who’s been terrific again this season after leading the Eagles to OFSAA bronze a year ago.
“She plays her angles well and being a Grade 12, she’s not going to be nervous,” Hamilton said of Grandmont.
“She’s a really good goalie, and we’re going to have to pick a corner to beat her and not just shoot it into her chest,” he stressed.
Sioux Lookout put up an admirable fight in Game 1 of their semi-final before the Muskies got on track late in the first period.
Hayes, Avery Cates, Siobhan Mackintosh, and captain Rachel Jean had the goals in the stanza.
Taylor Croswell and Mackintosh made it 6-0 before Sydney MacDonald beat Muskie goalie Sydney Beck with a power-play tally.
Jean got her second late in the second, with Savannah Kirton responding before the end of the period when she forced a turnover and beat Beck stick side to polish off her breakaway.
Jean finished off her hat trick just nine seconds into the third.
In Game 2, the Muskies jumped out to a 6-0 lead after just eight minutes.
“They were a little more awake,” chuckled Hamilton about his players.
“The kids were ready to play and came to life on the road,” he added.
“They were going from the drop of the puck to the end and that’s something we hope to build on.”
Hayes had a hat trick in that one while Jean, Croswell, and Janelle Kaemingh each scored twice.
Kelsey Langtry, Mackintosh, Lauren Vold, and Emma Noga added singles.
Beck handled net duties for the first two periods before Harleigh Brow-Rose came on to preserve the combined shutout.