They knew nothing was going to come easy and only hard work and sheer determination was going to get them to their goal.
That's how it all played out for the Muskie girls' hockey team on Monday night as they scratched and clawed and bore down on their chances when they needed to, pulling out a thrilling 2-1 shootout win over the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora) in the third-and-deciding game of the NorWOSSA final at the Ice For Kids Arena.
After being swept in the league final by the Dryden Eagles last year, the Muskies were more than elated to earn their trip back to the OFSAA 'A/AA' girls' hockey championship slated for March 24-26 in Stratford.
“I'm so proud of everyone, it's been a tough year and we really pulled through,” Muskie captain Jill Calder lauded of her team after the championship win on Monday night on home ice.
“It shows how teamwork and how a positive attitude can pay off. It's the best feeling in the world to get to go [to OFSAA] with this group of girls and to lead them.”
After a back and forth start to the first period in Monday's game, Calder fired a low shot on Saints' goalie Faith Reid that she tried to lay down and keep the rebound from squirting free.
But Tatum Glowasky bulled her way to the front of the net and jammed the loose puck home at the left of Reid to open the scoring with two minutes to go before intermission.
The Saints came back to tie it with 8:31 remaining in the middle stanza as Chloe Skead buried a one-timer past Muskie goalie Kamryn Sandelovich in the slot on a feed from Katelyne Stenlund to knot it at 1-1 after 40 minutes.
“They're a great team, they're older, right? They're a gritty team,” Muskie head coach Nicole Clarke said of the Saints.
“I think they've got a really deep team," added assistant coach Dylan Grinsell. ”So it's hard to match up lines against all three of their lines if they're all going. They really had a good power play. They're a very skilled team.
“We worked our butts off to get by them,” he stressed.
Neither side was able to score in the third period, forcing the need for a 10-minute 4-on-4 overtime session where again neither team could capitalize.
The Saints had the best chance of the extra frame early on as Marlies Ilot blocked a shot at the point and sprung past the Muskie defence for a short-handed breakaway but fired a wrist shot wide to the left of Sandelovich's net to keep it still tied at 1-1.
The game then moved to a best-of-five shootout, where the Muskies prevailed 2-0.
After both Glowasky and Ally Turcotte of the Saints came up empty on their attempts, Calder sent a backhand high past Reid's glove to give the black-and-gold the early advantage in extra shots.
Skead then was stoned by Sandelovich while Abbie Kenny stepped up and snapped a shot past the right of Reid to put the Muskies in the driver's seat.
Sandelovich denied Mariah White's shot with a right-pad save while Issy Taylor also was stopped by a great glove save from Reid.
Brynn Rawn had the last gasp for the Saints in the fourth round, but Sandelovich turned her shot aside to preserve the win for the Muskies and send them back to the all-Ontarios.
Sandelovich was stellar in turning aside 60 shots in regulation, along with the four stops in extra shots, to garner the win in goal.
Reid was solid in making 42 saves in a losing cause for St. Thomas Aquinas, who settled for a hard-earned silver medal.
The series went to Game 3 after the Muskies had earned a comeback 5-4 win in Game 2 in Kenora on Saturday night.
St. Thomas Aquinas led 3-1 early in the second period, with Abbie Kenny providing the lone Muskie goal at that point 43 seconds into the frame.
Glowasky, Taylor and Calder then tallied later in the middle stanza to give the Muskies their first lead at 4-3 heading into the third period.
Kathryn Fischer then fired home a feed from Glowasky 3:14 into the final frame to make it a two-goal cushion.
Skead tallied her second of the game for the Saints with 9:25 to go to trim it to 5-4, but that's as close as they would get as the Muskies evened the series at a game apiece.
“When we got to Kenora, we didn't have to talk about what the game meant because the girls knew what it meant and they wanted it,” said Clarke, whose squad fell 5-2 in Game 1 last Wednesday night here and had their backs to the wall in Game 2.
“We came out strong, unfortunately they got two quick goals on us, but we were able to persevere and once we got our first goal we kind of just kept rolling.”
“I think the girls realized what they are capable of, they knew that if they played the right way, if they listened to some advice, that they were able to get the win,” Grinsell reasoned.
“It showed here tonight [Monday], it showed in Game 2, as well.”
The seedings and schedule for the Muskies at OFSAA will be released in the upcoming days.
“[We need to] break it down into period by period and play period by period,” Calder, who was part of the 2018 squad who last qualified for OFSAA, said of the upcoming all-Ontarios.
“Just focus, play basic hockey, don't get too complicated. Just red-line dump it in, chase it, set it up and go from there.”
“I know we have two seniors on the team in Kam and Jill, but in terms of the rest of them, we're so young that I want them to gain that [OFSAA] experience now,” Clarke said.
“When OFSAA comes back here in a couple of years that's a huge experience, but having travelled [to Stratford] and having that experience under their belt I think is really big for our younger team.”