MSS Mustangs hockey teams ready for 2019 half of season

The Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) Mustangs downed Marymount 7-0 in a game played at the M’Chigeeng arena November 14th. The Mustangs have won their first two games of the regular season.

  Girls remains undefeated in division play

M’CHIGEENG—The end of the Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) Mustangs’ hockey teams’ 2018 games is now at hand, offering a chance to reflect on the good and bad of the past season and how the teams can best move forward into the 2019 half of the season.

“We played recently in the North Bay tournament and finished with a one and two record,” said boys’ team coach Steve Doane, referring to the Nipissing District Athletics Inc. annual hockey tournament that ran from December 6 to 8.

Their first game of the tournament began strong with a one-point lead into the third period, but with only seven minutes remaining in the game the Mustangs received a penalty, gave up possession of the puck and their opponents, Central Algoma, tipped in two goals, earning the other team a 2-1 victory.

“That ended up being our tournament. We did not play well in the next game after only a couple hour turnaround between games, losing 3-0 versus Scollard Hall,” said Mr. Doane. 

The following morning, the Mustangs dominated Chippewa with a 5-2 win, but the effort was “too little, too late.” Some players encountered disciplinary issues as well, leaving a group of them with suspensions for several days. Confederation ended up winning the overall tournament.

The following Monday, the boys travelled to Raymond Plourde Arena in Val Caron with only two lines of players to face Confederation, fresh off their tournament win. They again managed to grab an early 1-0 lead but soon Confederation had brought the score up to 3-1. In the third period, however, Confederation netted five more goals, leaving the tired Mustangs with an 8-1 loss.

“With that loss we gave up any hope of being an A division team this year, which is quite disappointing considering how well we have played at times,” said Mr. Doane. His team then had to forfeit a game against Lo Ellen because of a player shortage.

Then, on December 20, the boys’ Mustangs played Lasalle as their final game of 2018. Lasalle took a 1-0 lead in the first period but the Mustangs fought back in the second, ending that period with a score of 3-2 for Lasalle. The final score of the game ended up being double that of the second period, with a 6-4 win for Lasalle.

“We are disappointed in not making the A division but with the rise of teams like Espanola and Lo Ellen this year, we look forward to challenging for the B division after the holiday. We had a lot of talent and potential in the first half but had trouble scoring and lacked consistency on defence,” said Mr. Doane.

“It really comes down to how badly the guys want to win. The second half of the season isn’t going to be easy and we will have to prove that we can win consistently if we want to repeat,” added Mr. Doane.

The Mustangs girls’ team is still undefeated in regular season play.

“Their last game against Lively, right after we got back from London, was something like 12-1,” says coach Mike Meeker.

The team is dominating their division and the girls seem to be having fun while doing so.

“In the third period of that game, I lost total control of the team because the girls were singing Christmas carols on the bench during the game. One line would go out on the ice and the line that came off would come in and carry on the song where they left off,” says Mr. Meeker. “I didn’t say a word because they were having fun and they weren’t doing it in an insulting way to the other team. They were just having fun and the other team knew it—that was a first for me!”

Although the stacked team is not finding a tough challenge in facing down their opponents, Mr. Meeker says he uses that opportunity for the team to challenge themselves.

“We work on specific aspects of the game that we need to work on, such as the defense holding the puck more and not giving it away unless there is someone open. In other years, I haven’t had the confidence to do that,” says Mr. Meeker.

He says all three forward lines of the team are quite strong and can exert a lot of offensive pressure.

“It must be really hard for other teams to play us because there’s no break from those girls. There is no rest,” says Mr. Meeker. “We’ve played teams in past years that were like that and it was extremely hard because you just felt relentless pressure the whole game.”

The next game was against Marymount, resulting in a 7-1 victory for the Mustangs. The girls controlled the game right from the start and, rather than focusing just on scoring goals, worked at passing and cycling the puck. Mr. Meeker says they did a great job at those plays.

The girls team recently went to London for a tournament.

“I know the competition down there is real tough. We’ve gone to the tournament for four years, and I knew this was where we were going to see what we are made of. The first two games, that was exactly what it was—we tied both,” says Mr. Meeker.

Their third game was one that Mr. Meeker had been highly anticipating. It was against a top-rated team, St. Mary’s. They are consistently among the best in the league and are often vying for the OFSAA provincial championships. Most years, St. Mary’s would begin scoring goals, the Mustangs would get discouraged and the result would be a crushing defeat for the Manitoulin team.

“I thought this team was going to be a great test,” says Mr. Meeker. “That team had been blowing through the competition and they only beat us 1-0. We hit a goalpost and shot on a breakaway and hit the goalie. The coach said that’s the most scared he’s been all year.”

For Mr. Meeker, the most outstanding part of that game is the way the girls executed the game plan, a plan that included things they had never practiced before.

“Not only did it show me how good they are, which is what I was hoping to see, but also the fact that they’re tough mentally. They could’ve given up. That team was relentlessly good and the girls just got tougher,” says Mr. Meeker.

The fourth game of the tournament resulted in a 3-1 loss for the Mustangs. The team was not as tough as some of the others in the tournament, but Mr. Meeker attributes it to the fact that they weren’t as prepared for the game. Regardless, he says, they did not give up in their pushes despite not having a great game.

Mr. Meeker says there are five graduating girls from the team this year, which is a bit higher than normal. However, some of the girls know students in Grade 8 who will be coming up next year and they assure him that the team will carry along just fine. 

Although the team appears to be far stronger than their division rivals, they are locked into their division for the balance of the season. A few years ago, however, there was an opportunity for the top division two team to compete in the division one NOSSA tournament. Mr. Meeker says he will be asking manager Mel Cheng to look into the possibility of getting a NOSSA spot again.

“This is a team that sure as hell wouldn’t embarrass themselves if they did get into the NOSSA playdowns,” he says.

Even if the tournament is out of the question, Mr. Meeker says he will be exploring the idea of having some exhibition games with division one teams and the league convenor has already given his blessing.

“They deserve the chance to play those teams and prove to themselves that they can play against those teams. I know they’re going to do well—the St. Mary’s team would challenge the top teams in division one and our girls were right up there with them,” says Mr. Meeker.

The league’s playoffs will be in the middle of February. Before then, Mr. Meeker says he hopes to go to a tournament in Toronto and play some exhibition games with the division one teams.