Muskie girls hope three’s the charm

Even before the first blade has hit the ice in league play, the Muskie girls’ hockey team already is leading the NorWOSSA ‘AA’ conference in one department—hunger.
The 11 returnees from last season’s squad, which posted a 4-7-1 record in regular-season play, no doubt still must be wondering what might have been after their narrow elimination in the NorWOSSA semi-finals by the Dryden Eagles.
A sweep was never more of a task than it was for the Eagles, who squeezed by the black-and-gold 1-0 in the series opener, then pulled out a 4-3 win in double overtime to take the best-of-three series.
The latest edition of the Muskies—entering their third year of existence—has the coaches buzzing about what could be waiting at the end of this season’s rainbow.
“From what we’ve seen so far, the chemistry is there,” said Jim McMahon, who is back for his third season with the team but first as head coach.
“Things are falling into place. It’s a unique situation for us to be at this point so soon in the season. Everyone’s on the same page,” he enthused.
McMahon credited the burgeoning female house league program here in Fort Frances, along with the developing girls’ hockey systems in nearby towns such as Emo, for producing higher-calibre players to select from.
“The skill levels of the girls coming into the team are that much more above what they were in previous years, and they have more knowledge of the game, as well,” McMahon said.
That talent was on display last Thursday in Warroad, where the Muskies came through a one-day, three-game marathon with a 1-2 mark.
After 3-0 and 4-2 losses to Thief River Falls and Warroad, respectively, the black-and-gold closed out play with a 3-0 shutout against Roseau.
“We were pretty happy with their effort,” said McMahon. “We’re expecting by the end of the month or the beginning of December that the girls will be over the jitters and ready to do their jobs.”
He also is handing the responsibility of making the nine new faces on the roster feel at home with the veterans.
“We’re using the girls we’ve had for the last couple of years as mentors to help the younger ones,” said McMahon, who has expedited the process by consciously trying to provide a mix of old and new in his forward lines and defensive pairings.
Team captain Tara Lloyd and forward Kristin Roehrig, along with defenceman and assistant captain Brooke Shabatura, will be three of the experienced players McMahon will call on to keep the Muskies’ ship on course.
“Tara will be our go-to girl up front while Kristin’s work ethic is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” McMahon said. “Brooke reads the ice good, pinches in at the right time, and when she gets a chance to get her shot off, it’s exciting.”
With last year’s starter Kim Fowler having moved on, the No. 1 goalie position is wide open, with returnees Megan Bob and Kim Pacarenuk vying for the job.
“They’ll have to play their way into the job,” said McMahon, who was impressed by the pair’s strict adherence to the workout regimen they were assigned to follow during the off-season.
“Megan’s more of a stand-up goaltender while Kim plays the butterfly style,” he noted. “They’re going to make it a tough decision. I believe I can count on either of them as starters for the year.”
Besides their regular NorWOSSA schedule against Dryden and the Kenora Broncos, the Muskies will travel to Minneapolis again this year for the Holiday Classic on Dec. 26-28.
McMahon viewed that tournament—which drew 76 teams last year—as a golden opportunity for any of his players to prove they have what it takes to perform at the next level.
“Last year, we had scouts talk to three of our girls,” said McMahon. “It’s a great chance to showcase what we have.”
The Muskie girls originally were slated to start their season this Friday night in Dryden, but now will come out of the gate against the Eagles here Tuesday at the ’52 Canadians Arena.
Game time tentatively is set for 4 p.m.