The Muskie boys' hockey team has made a habit of getting out to slow starts in games.
Fortunately for them, they've been able to overcome that and fight back to win more often than not so far this season.
That rang true for the black-and-gold once again in the finale of their annual two-game “Border Battle” exhibition series here last Tuesday night against the International Falls Broncos as they rallied from a multi-goal deficit to pull out a 4-3 win.
“I definitely have to give the team credit. I find that regardless of where the game is at, we never quit,” Muskie head coach Chris Sinclair lauded.
“And it was great to be rewarded from the efforts to get us back in the game.”
After taking the opener by a 5-4 count back on Dec. 20 at Bronco Arena in the Falls, the Broncos again came out strong as they built a 2-0 lead through the early half of the second period.
Jaxon Germain opened the scoring for International Falls 2:22 into the first period of last Tuesday's game as he skated around the Muskie defence down the left wing and banked a backhander into the net off of goalie Jaden Cooper.
Brenden Benike then finished off the work of linemate Ben Skifstad in front of the Muskie net 6:32 into the second to double the lead for the visitors.
Fighting back, Josh Ward gave the Muskies some life, less than a minute later, as he forced a Broncos' defender into a turnover in front of his own net and tucked one past goalie Mitchell Nemec to trim it to a score of 2-1.
Jace Jackson then evened it with 5:42 to go in the frame as he took a pass from Jace Dittaro at the left point and fooled Nemec with a long wrist shot to knot it a 2-2 after 34 minutes.
“The combination of Josh Ward, Nolan Mann and Ashton Cousineau got us on the board just by working hard and being strong on the puck,” Sinclair recalled.
"They were able to get in their zone by moving their feet and winning battles and eventually got the puck to the net and banged one in. And that's exactly what we needed. That goal gave us some energy and were able to feed off it, which allowed us to get back into the game.
“Having said that, I think we have a tendency to make things difficult on ourselves with our starts,” he admitted.
“We need to have better starts and quit getting ourselves into holes early in the game.”
Mikel Ward gave the Muskies their first lead of the night 3:28 into the third, with Dittaro and Jaxon Gartzke drawing assists on the play.
Nolan Mann then made it a two-goal cushion with just over five minutes to go as he finished off the rebound of Muskie captain Reed Bodnar's shot, with Josh Ward earning the other assist on the play.
With time running out, the Broncos opted to pull Nemec for the extra-attacker while on a power play for a two-man advantage and it paid off handsomely as Brayden Dremmel fired one past Muskie goalie Jaden Cooper to trim it to 4-3 with 3:34 remaining.
But Cooper and the Muskies buckled down defensively from there to hold on for a hard-earned win.
The Muskies also were playing without the services of forward Brady Bodnarchuk, who suffered a concussion in scary play against the host Baudette Bears the night prior where he was hit into the boards from behind and was stretchered off the ice.
The Bears won the game by a 5-3 count.
“It was very important that we won that game. We not only needed a strong game to rebound from our performance the night before in Baudette, but we needed to rebound from the first game we played against the Broncos where we lost,” Sinclair said.
“We needed that win and I think that it's going to do a lot for us moving forward into playoffs.”
The Muskies (9-0) were slated to resume NorWOSSA play last night against the visiting Sioux Lookout Warriors (2-6), with the outcome not known as of press time.
Fort High then will hit the road to take on the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (6-2) in Kenora tomorrow night.
The Muskies then will end the week by participating in the Scott Clendenning Memorial Showcase this weekend, which will include boys' teams for the first time this year.
Fort High will open play on Friday morning as they take on the Dryden Eagles at 9:45 a.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The Muskies then will face the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora) that afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at “The Duke” (Couchiching Arena).
On Saturday, the Muskies will square off against the Red Lake Rams at 8 a.m. before ending play that afternoon against the Kenora Broncos at 6:30 p.m.
Both games will take place at the '52 Canadians Arena in Fort Frances.
“We have three more league games and then four games in the 'Showcase' next weekend and then it's playoffs,” Sinclair noted.
“The focus here on in is going to be finishing the season off strong and staying healthy. Practice will be fine-tuning some areas that we can improve on moving forward, as well as a focus on special teams and situational play.”