M’CHIGEENG – The Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) girls’ team has recently returned from the annual Cardinal Carter Classic hockey tournament, a two-day event at York University that ended in a resounding success for the Mustangs who took home the top spot and a commemorative trophy for their efforts.
“I could talk about every single girl, about everything they did that was great, but it’s so indicative of them as a team and how they play that everybody, including parents of other teams, were coming up and saying ‘wow, those girls play good hockey,’” said Mustangs girls’ team coach Mike Meeker.
There were four games in the tournament and one game that was just for fun. The girls didn’t play their best in that fun game but in the four matches that counted toward the tournament standings, the girls brought everything they had.
“All the coaches on the teams we played against, the convenor of the tournament and the refs came up and told me we’ve got a really nice team. We play hard but we play fair; our passing is excellent and our positional play is excellent,” said Mr. Meeker.
He credited MSS’ two very strong goalies for helping to hold the team together.
“Whenever I put one of them in, I don’t even worry about them and just cycle through them,” he said.
The first game of the tournament was against St. Benedict’s, a team in the Sudbury-area league. The Mustangs outplayed them, according to Mr. Meeker, but they ended the game in a 0-0 tie.
The next match against a Powassan-area team led to a 3-0 victory for the Mustangs after a strong effort. That team hosts a tournament every year and has invited the Mustangs to attend next year’s event.
The next tournament game was against the same team, which ended in another victory. The next match was against Almaguin which ended in a 2-0 win, followed by a final match against St. Benedict’s again which ended in a 1-0 victory for the Mustangs.
“I don’t care who we’re playing, if they can keep focused on playing our game, then we’re going to win,” said Mr. Meeker. “That’s what they’re doing, and that’s why I’m so proud of them.”
Mr. Meeker said the York University-hosted tournament is always a great experience and the facilities are world-class. They played the final game of the tournament on a full-sized ice surface on which university-level teams play. The Mustangs have been attending the tournament for at least a decade.
The regular season continues with the final few games before playoffs, which commence in late February. For their efforts, the girl Mustangs have secured a spot among the six teams within the league’s Division 1.
“Based on the first 10 games we’re in fifth place, so we’re definitely in Division 1, which is kind of neat because we’ve played all the best teams and we’ve been competitive with every one of them,” said team manager Lisa Addison-Corbiere.
As the team edges through the last regular season games before the playoffs, they have a lot to keep in mind. They need to either hold their fifth-place spot or climb into a higher rank because the sixth-ranked team is automatically excluded from the playoff round.
The playoffs begin with another do-or-die game, when the fourth- and fifth-ranked teams square off in a quarter final match to determine the final set of four teams that will carry on to the semi-finals.
“We’re going to do really well. Like I said, the top three teams are extremely strong but we’ve challenged all three of them. It’s going to be tough to beat them because they’ve got a lot of talent, but our girls are getting better and better every game. They’re playing my system better and I’m so impressed that they’re picking up on the little things,” said Mr. Meeker.
He describes his team as having no superstars, meaning each player has to work together as a cohesive unit and work on weaker parts of their play.
Mr. Meeker said the Mustangs girls have seen vast improvements in clearing the puck from their own end and are getting better at goal-scoring.
“They’re doing better every game and we’re going to be peaking at just the right time,” he said.
There was a regular season game against Bishop Carter shortly after the tournament, a team that has become a personal rival for the Mustangs coach. The game ended in a loss, but Mr. Meeker assumed full responsibility for the superstitious factors that may have led to the outcome.
“(Whittier Dwyer-Gauthier) is the girl who always leads the rallying cheers on our bench. Whit’s been doing it all year and she’s like our good luck charm. Well, I made a mistake. I decided to let another girl try leading the cheers who has a louder voice. When we lost, I figured that was the coach’s mistake of changing the routine, so Whit’s going back to being the one who leads the cheer at the beginning of the game,” said Mr. Meeker.
Bishop Carter brought its A-squad to the match. Although the Mustangs held their own by keeping the score to 2-1 for the opponents into the second period, they missed a chance to tie and the Sudbury team converted it into a goal for themselves. The 3-1 score was a tad disappointing but Mr. Meeker said the girls played well despite what the scoreboard read.
Player Aysia Debassige, who has been out for several matchups including the Cardinal Carter Classic tournament following a concussion at the recent fundraiser game, is expected to return to the ice in the final season games.
“I certainly don’t want her coming back until the people she’s working with say she’s ready. Last night she told me she was getting excited and was thinking she would be ready to play again soon,” said Mr. Meeker.
There are three games left in the girls’ regular season—Lo Ellen in Sudbury on February 13, Horizon in Sudbury on February 19 and a home game against Notre Dame on February 20.
The playoffs begin as early as February 24 with the quarter-final match against the fifth- and fourth-place teams.