The Muskie boys' hockey team is looking like the team to beat so far this season.
The black-and-gold got off to a fantastic start to the NorWOSSA regular season with a 13-0 rout of the host Kenora Broncos last Tuesday and followed that up by going undefeated and snaring the title at the Dryden Eagles' annual home tournament over the weekend.
Fort High defeated all four teams it faced at the tourney, outscoring them by a combined 18-6 in the process, and is looking like a well-oiled machine to start the year.
“We played very well for the most part of the tournament and it obviously makes things more enjoyable when you're winning,” said Muskie coach Chris Sinclair.
“I thought we did a lot of things really well over the weekend which led to our success. I liked the way we played with a defensive mindset for the most part of the weekend and our special teams (both power play and penalty kill) came up really big for us,” he lauded.
"We were really good at winning battles, our centermen controlled the faceoff circles, our goalies made some big saves when we needed them.
“We did lots of little things right that allowed us to come home with the trophy,” Sinclair reasoned.
The Muskies opened tourney play on Friday morning with a 6-1 win over the Red Lake Rams.
Nolan Mann scored twice while Connor Nelson, Ashton Cousineau, Jacob Albright, and Brady Bodnarchuk also lit the lamp in that one.
Axel Johnson potted the Rams' lone goal in the first period.
Jace Jackson then tallied twice to pace the black-and-gold to a 4-1 win over the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora) that evening.
Cousineau and Bodnarchuk provided the other goals for the Muskies while Brett Riehl replied for the Saints.
“Game 1 versus Red Lake I thought we started kind of slow, and got down 1-0 early,” Sinclair recalled.
"As the game progressed and we finally got one back, we kind of took the game over and it stayed like that throughout.
“Game 2 versus T.A. was our best game of the tournament,” he lauded.
“We controlled the play from start to finish and didn't really give them anything. Both of those two games were very important for us as not only was it the first time playing these two NorWOSSA teams, they were also league games. With the new structure of the league, each team plays two league games at tournaments, so to us, they were more than just a tournament round robin game,” Sinclair stressed.
On Saturday morning, the Muskies nailed down a 4-2 victory over the Morris Mavericks (Manitoba) in the semifinals.
Kaden Kocuiba bulged the twine twice in that one while Albright and Mikel Ward also tallied.
That win put the Muskies in the championship game against St. Thomas Aquinas that evening, where they again prevailed by a 4-2 count.
Nelson, Cousineau, Jackson, and Mann supplied the goals to help the Muskies claim the title.
Riehl and Jacob Kipling tallied in a losing cause for the Saints.
“The semifinal game versus Morris Saturday morning wasn't our best, but we did enough to come through with the win,” said Sinclair.
"It was tied 2-2 and it was good to see the team come together and stick with our game, battling through a little adversity to get the win.
“By the final game, you could tell it had been a long weekend for both teams as the pace/intensity wasn't the same as it was in Game 2,” he noted.
“But both T.A. and us had some really good chances, we got up 4-1 and [Muskie goalie] Darian [Klem] closed the door from then on, only giving up one with 13 seconds left. All in all though it was a very successful weekend and I am proud of the kids for their accomplishment.”
As mentioned, the Muskies (3-0) had gone into the tournament fresh off a rout of the Broncos last Tuesday night in Kenora to start the NorWOSSA season off strong.
Kocuiba opened the scoring for the black-and-gold early in the first as he was the recipient of a crisp pass from Bodnarchuk at the point down into the slot, where he made no mistake in a firing a wrist shot home.
Jackson (power play), Nelson, Bodnarchuk, and Mikel Ward then all lit the lamp to stake the Muskies to a commanding 5-0 lead after 20 minutes.
In the second, Kocuiba held onto the puck on a 2-on-1 shorthanded opportunity and made no mistake with a shot upstairs to push it to a six-goal cushion with his second of the night.
Bodnarchuk then also buried his second of the game shortly after to spell the end of the night for the Broncos' starting goalie.
His counterpart didn't fare much better as Peyton Avis (power play) and Mikel Ward also bulged the twine later in the frame to extend it to 9-0 after 40 minutes.
Josh Ward, Avis (shorthanded), Jackson, and Jace Dittaro then all tallied in the third to round out the scoring.
Although he wasn't tested very often, Darian Klem was solid when called upon to nab the shutout in goal for his first win of the season.
“I was very impressed with how we played on Tuesday,” Sinclair enthused.
“I think the first game of the season is always tough, as kids are excited and nervous, and you don't really know how they are going to adjust. I thought we came out just as we left off against the Thunder Bay Kings—played with the same speed and intensity and the Broncos weren't able to match that.”
The Muskies were slated to resume NorWOSSA play last night when they welcomed the Eagles to the Ice For Kids Arena for their home-opener, with the outcome not known as of press time.
Sinclair was hopeful his squad would avoid getting complacent after a successful weekend and play with intensity against Dryden on home ice.
“I think it's easy to let a big win or a tournament victory get to your head, so our biggest challenge on Tuesday is how we are going to rebound from the weekend,” he remarked.
“Although we didn't get to play against Dryden, we got to see them play a little bit. They are a motivated team who works hard and I am expecting them to come here wanting to win,” he warned.
“So we will have to match their intensity and stick to our gameplan.”