MSS hockey teams get a break before the playoff season

Girls remain undefeated in regular season play

M’CHIGEENG—The Mustangs hockey teams are already flying through their first games of 2019 ahead of the two-week break for the exam period. While each game has been offering unique challenges, both teams have been playing hard to secure their standings as the year-end tournaments draw nearer.

“The last games have been real tough,” says girls’ team coach Mike Meeker of the two recent games against Espanola and St. Benedict’s. “They were really tight games. I’m happy because it looks like the playoffs are going to be anything but a cakewalk.”

Espanola had not been ready to go down without a fight. Mr. Meeker says his team took probably 40 shots on goal but in the end only squeaked a 1-0 victory.

“Maddy Niven got a really nice goal, she made a nice deke around the defense and popped one in the top corner.”

That would be the only chance the Mustangs had at scoring for the whole game.

“The Espanola goalie just had one of those nights; she was just dynamite, played real well,” says Mr. Meeker. “They don’t give up, that team. They’ve always been that way, they’ve always given us trouble no matter what.”

He adds that the team has faced certain challenges through the 2019 games, such as the St. Benedict’s game at Countryside which is an Olympic-sized rink and much larger than their usual ice surface.

“There’s so much space out there and they have to play a different style of game. We got ahead 2-0 and were controlling the play, but in the third period St. Bens scored a deflection goal and it was a down-to-the-wire game. They did an excellent job of holding them off and I’m glad that happened because it gave us a chance to work on that tight game scenario,” says Mr. Meeker.

“As usual, the girls did an excellent job. It just amazes me at how I can talk to them about a style of play or a game plan and, better than any other team I can remember, they understand, pick it up and do it. They execute,” he continues.

Mr. Meeker says he spoke with Lively’s coach last week after the Mustangs shut them out in another high-scoring game.

“There’s been good teams in Lively and [Coach Kim Cheswick] really knows the game, but she just doesn’t have a strong team this year because she doesn’t have a goalie. I’ve been in that position before,” says Mr. Meeker.

“Kim said to me after the game, ‘your team is amazing for passing.’ They just move the puck around real well and find open players. I don’t know if I’ve seen a girls’ team in recent years except the very top teams that can do that,” he continues.

The girls’ last game of the regular season is against Espanola on February 5. Mr. Meeker says it will likely be another good game.

“Often, teams don’t respond well to pressure, but with this team I’m not worried at all,” he says. “When it’s on, they dig in and play harder. They just have that character which is a little unusual for our teams.”

If the team can manage to continue their streak, they are on track to finish up a perfect season.

“No hockey team, boys or girls, has ever come close to a perfect season. I think it’ll be something they’ll always remember,” says Mr. Meeker.

Over on the boys’ side, the Mustangs are fresh off a 6-5 victory against the Lively Hawks on Friday, January 18.

“They showed a lot of good character which is something we need at this point in the season,” says assistant coach Jordan Smith.

“The B division’s close this year and in fact, one of the linesmen had commented on that and the other teams have said the same thing,” says coach Steve Doane.

“(Lively) is a team that we’ve beat twice this year handily so they’ve closed the gap.”

The boys team also has a two-week exam break before their final game of the season against Lockerby and the start of the playoffs in the first week of February.

“We’re getting into the most important time of the year where they should start showing improvements, and that’s what we’re hoping for. So, it was nice to get this win tonight to set them into that break,” says Mr. Smith.

According to Mr. Doane, the team has been playing fairly consistently all year. Their goaltending has been decent but he says their goal-scoring has been lacking.

“The nice thing that we’re seeing now is we’re getting a bit more scoring, and the scoring is being spread around across the lines,” says Mr. Smith.

The coaches say it was nice to see Jayden Little break out; he had netted four goals in the Lively game on Friday.

“It looks like a lot of them were feeding off his energy tonight, which is a good thing to see because we haven’t seen a lot of that so far,” says Mr. Smith.

Mr. Doane says his players have often been focusing on trying to score fancy goals but he says they seem to be increasingly trying to simply put the puck in the net, something he describes as positive.

Something Mr. Doane says he wants to see improved going into the playoffs is spreading out some of the workload on the ice.

“We play four defencemen and by the end, they get tired. We really have to have our forwards helping out in their own end and they have to have a good back check,” says Mr. Doane. “They need support.”

The Mustangs boys are not what Mr. Smith considers a highly skilled team, so he says the key to their success will be showing up and outworking the other teams on the ice to play a strong defensive game.

The amount of interest the community has been showing in the team is something Mr. Doane says is very important and appreciated.

“We’ve been getting nice fan support, which we appreciate, and the games have been exciting.”

Playoff hockey action gets underway at the beginning of February. If the recent games are any indication, both Mustangs teams seem poised to face down any competition that comes their way.