After starting out their season with four straight losses, many believed this would be a rebuilding year for the Midale Mustangs. However, on Wednesday night the team was within two games of winning the Big Six Hockey League championship.
In spite of losing 10 players from last year's roster, the team persevered and made it all the way to the Lincoln Trophy for a fifth start year. But, like last season the Mustangs were unable to win the league championship, losing to the Bienfait Coalers in six games.
The Coalers were this years powerhouse in the Big Six. Bienfait was the defending league champions and were the league's top team in the regular season.
The winners of the first five games were dependent on who was the home team. The home team won each of the first five games of the series.
"Both teams really took advantage of their home ice. Bienfait always packs the house, and I think they were undefeated at home during the regular season. They have a small rink and it was tough to produce anything there. We also had a good home ice and were able to feed off of the crowd and win our games here," said Mustangs forward Cory Koski.
Going into game six, Koski thought his team "had the advantage of playing on home ice." But, Midale had some of their key players out for the game, and according to Koski, "(Bienfait) was hungry to win and had more energy than (the Mustangs) did" in the sixth game.
Bienfait's hunger and energy powered the team to a 5-2 win, clinching the team's second consecutive championship. For Koski, a couple of moments in the game stood out in his mind.
"One of their goals was a slapshot from the wing. It bounced up in the air for a bit, and went off our goalie's head to bounce in. Then there was their fourth goal. It was a slapshot from the point. (The puck) bounced off my stick, and then it went off my neck and in the net. That one was the dagger for us," Koski added.
For Midale coach Kelly Orsted, Bienfait's biggest strength came from the fact they were "a pretty tight group of hockey plazyers."
"Game in and game out, their players made it to every game. When you have that, (players) get used to playing with each other really quick. Also, they had that same core group of guys still there from last year's team that won," Orsted added.
Even though the team lost in the championship final, Koski noted it was "a big accomplishment for the team to get to that final." The Mustangs had lost 10 players from last year's roster heading into this season, and not much was expected from the club. The team's success from this past season sets them up well for next year.
"I think we should have a pretty good shot at the championship next year. We have a bunch of guys returning from last year, and we should have a bunch of new faces. Also, our goalie (Tanner Erickson) will be back next year and that will be pretty big for us," Koski said.
When the head coach looks back on the season, he described it as "very successful."
"Looking back on the first skate of the year, when we had literally half of the guys from last years team out, you start to visualize what things will look like. We started off the year close to the bottom and then we got some of our guys playing really well after the Christmas break and we ended up in the league final … Also, the fans really recognized what we did. At the start of the year we had people coming out to our games and you could tell they were thinking it was going to be one of those years. But, in the end, we had multiple fans come up to us and recognized what we accomplished this year, and that means a lot," Orsted stated.