A new season with a significantly different cast of characters usually would not be a winning formula for a TV show.
As for hockey teams? Well, let’s just say “The Muskie Bunch” already is a smash hit.
Emma Noga broke a 2-2 tie early in the third period as the Muskie girls’ hockey team defended its crown at the Sturgeon Heights Husky Classic in Winnipeg with a 4-2 victory over the Kelvin Clippers in Sunday’s final.
Rookie Siobhan Mackintosh set up Noga to notch her second assist of the game.
Taylor Croswell added an insurance marker 58 seconds later for Fort High, which enters the season having nine new players on the roster following the team’s historic run to the silver medal at the OFSAA ‘A/AA’ championships this past spring in Kenora.
“Kelvin had some very skilled players,” noted Todd Hamilton, who won his tournament debut as Muskie head coach after replacing the late Scott Clendenning, who passed away suddenly back in March.
“The Lea sisters are exceptional,” he said of the Clippers’ sizzling sibling duo.
“We had to be aware of them every time they were on the ice.
“Our girls did a great job minimizing their opportunities but I think they still scored both Kelvin’s goals,” Hamilton noted.
After a scoreless first period, Kelvin took a 1-0 lead at 11:21 of the second.
But Muskie captain Rachel Jean replied three minutes later before Annalise Hayes gave Fort High its first lead on the power play at 17:20, with the Muskies holding a massive 30-6 edge in shots on goal.
Kelvin refused to roll over, however, netting the equalizer just 1:12 into the third before the Muskies finished things off despite taking four of five penalties in the period and being at a two-man disadvantage for a good part of the final two minutes.
Sydney Beck, who guarded the net the entire weekend for the Muskies, made 11 saves to earn the win.
The Muskies didn’t quite look championship-ready in their first test of the new season as the Vincent Massey Trojans (Winnipeg) prevailed 2-1 in their tourney opener.
Mackintosh had the lone Muskie goal.
“[It was] a little bit of everything,” said Hamilton.
“We played well [but] Vincent Massey has a good team and they played a very disciplined game with strong goaltending,” he noted.
“We missed a few scoring opportunities, for sure.
“[Beck] played very well and kept the game within one goal,” added Hamilton, whose team was outshot 20-13.
The offence began to click in the Muskies’ second outing—a 6-4 win over the Clippers in a preview of the final.
Fort High scored twice in each period, with goals coming from Croswell, Jenna Clendenning, Rylee Redford, Hayes, Avery Cates and Janelle Kaemingh (empty-netter).
“It’s always great to get the first win, and I think the confidence of beating a solid team like Kelvin carried us through to the finals,” Hamilton reasoned.
The Muskies then turned things up a notch in their third game, outshooting the Springfield Sabres 40-7 while blanking them 6-0.
Hayes led the way with a goal and two assists.
Lauren Vold, Kelsey Langtry, Moriah Carradice, Kaemingh, and Sam McKinnon also tallied for the Muskies.
Beck turned aside all seven shots to record the first shutout in the rookie’s high school career.
Fort High’s relentless style continued in the semi-finals during a 5-1 win over the Oak Park Raiders.
With a 47-13 advantage on the shot clock, including 20-3 in the first, the Muskies were in control the whole game.
Langtry, Redford, and Clendenning all netted first-period goals before Jean made it 4-0 at 4:40 of the third.
Redford iced the win with her second goal of the game later in the period.
Meanwhile, there will be plenty of emotion at the Ice For Kids Arena this weekend as the Muskies hosts the inaugural Scott Clendenning Memorial Showcase, with their annual home tournament being renamed and re-formatted in honour of their former bench boss.
“We will honour Scott’s memory and legacy, and do our very best to represent Fort Frances high school girls’ hockey,” promised Hamilton.
“The showcase format is something I believe Scott would appreciate—five great Northwestern Ontario girls’ hockey teams competing and honouring the memory and legacy of a great coach and tireless volunteer for girls hockey,” he added.
“Yes we want to win, but this weekend is more about showcasing Northwestern Ontario girls’ hockey—something Scott worked very hard to develop and promote.
“The players will be excited and ready to go,” Hamilton said.
Fort High’s first game will be Friday at 7:15 p.m. against the Thunder Bay Midget ‘A’ Queens.
Then on Saturday, the Muskies will tangle with the Kenora Broncos (9:15 a.m.) and the Dryden Eagles (3:15 p.m.) in a pair of NorWOSSA season preview match-ups.
The Muskies then will wrap up play against another NorWOSSA foe, the Sioux Lookout Warriors, on Sunday at 10:15 a.m.
The team’s only injury issue so far is with forward Lauren Hamilton, who suffered an upper-body injury at practice last week that will keep her out of the lineup for two-three weeks.
Hayes came out of the semi-final win against Oak Park with an upper-body ailment, but returned for the final and should be good for this weekend.