Mustangs hockey teams fighting hard in regular season play

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M’CHIGEENG – The regular seasons are both well underway for the Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) Mustangs boys’ and girls’ hockey teams and both crews are pushing hard to prove their worth as they take part in a round robin format to determine their division status.

First up is the boys’ team which has been matched up against some of the league’s strongest players for its first few games. Although a win has remained elusive for the boys, coach Craig Abotossaway said the score outcomes must be taken in context.

“We had two games last week with what are considered the top two teams in the league,” said Mr. Abotossaway. “We took losses in these games but it definitely was a learning opportunity. We look forward to these types of games this early in the season so we can prepare against the teams in our division.”

However, he did say that it was often nice to have at least one game against a weaker team because a victory can strongly boost player morale. Mr. Abotossaway added that scheduling patterns in previous years have most often matched up Manitoulin with the top teams rather than more attainable victories.

“We’re getting a little more into our pool of play now as we move along,” he said. “We’re in what’s called the ‘B’ pool; they have these designated by school sizes, based on population.”

Two of the recent matches were against St. Charles and L’Horizon. The St. Charles game ended in an 13-2 defeat, with the Mustangs rallying to score both of their goals in the second period, while the L’Horizon match held the very next day resulted in an 8-0 loss for the Mustangs.

“My kids said it didn’t seem like they played badly, but the score didn’t reflect it,” said assistant coach Rob Marshall of the L’Horizon showdown, who also referenced L’Horizon as among the top contenders in the league.

On Monday night, the Mustangs went back to Sudbury for a showdown against Lively. A match against St. Benedict is to come tomorrow, November 28, followed by a double-feature fundraiser game at the Little Current-Howland Recreation Centre that will showcase the MSS girls’ team at 5:30 pm, followed by the boys’ team at 7 pm. Both games are against Lo-Ellen.

The first regular season game for the girls was a matchup against St. Benedict, the team that defeated the Mustangs for the division championship title last season. 

“I was a little worried because we’re practicing now on the Mindemoya ice surface, which is a really nice surface but it’s really small. Our first game was at Countryside (which has an NHL-sized ice surface),” said Mustangs girls’ team coach Mike Meeker. However, the Mustangs girls pulled ahead and won the game 3-1 over the previous victors. 

The team’s next match was against Notre Dame, which Mr. Meeker described as a stacked team that has been built in order to represent the North at OFSAA. 

“We played pretty even all game; they were just so balanced but they ended up beating us 3-1. It was 1-1 until right into the third period, so it was another really good game. The girls did real well compared to how strong we knew that team was going to be,” said Mr. Meeker. He agreed that Notre Dame would likely be the second-ranked team in the league.

“The girls played right with them all game, but principally, what happened was we got outscored. Our issue last year too was scoring goals,” said Mr. Meeker. 

This Friday’s showdown against Lo-Ellen is raising some concerns for Mr. Meeker who said his girls would have to approach the game from a very different perspective if they could eke out a victory. At the pre-season east-west tournament, Lo-Ellen handily defeated the girl Mustangs 7-0, while the dominating team was down four to five key players and had taken it easy in the third period.

“I’m trying to prep the girls on how to play teams that are that talented; it has to be effort and execution because they’re so frustrating to play. The girls are trying hard and their natural reaction (if the other team pulls ahead) is to run around and try to do more. As soon as you do that, they’ve got you,” said Mr. Meeker.

He acknowledged that the mental game of not getting flustered is difficult, but especially so at this age group. Regardless of the numbers on the scoreboard, he said if the girls can try hard and play to the best of their abilities, he would consider it a win.

Overall, Mr. Meeker said he felt some optimism for the coming season.

“I think of the three top teams—St. Charles, Notre Dame and Lo-Ellen—we can give two of them a run for their money. But it comes down to luck and improving the way we play,” said Mr. Meeker.

“We’ve got a good bunch of girls, I know them well, they’ve got a good attitude and whatever way the season goes, we’re going to be in the mix,” he said.

This Friday, November 29 is the double-header game of the Mustangs and Lo-Ellen teams in Little Current. The girl Mustangs play at 5:30 pm and the boys are up at 7 pm. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for students, with proceeds going toward MSS’ athletic programs.