This season’s edition of the Muskie girls’ hockey team will be saturated with experience as they go for their fifth-straight NorWOSSA championship.
All nine forwards are returnees, as are four of the five blueliners at this point and both goalies.
“Having experienced players helps but everything stems from their commitment to hard work, to each other, to the program, and to the team,” stressed head coach Todd Hamilton.
Normally a team that loses two-thirds of its top line (Janelle Kaemingh and Lauren Hamilton) and two steady contributors on defence (Abby Plourde and Sara Jackson) would find itself scrambling to fill the void.
But rather than try to plug in new players, Hamilton instead opted to go with a smaller roster to give his wealth of veterans more ice time to get them more in rhythm and be able to contribute positively to the team.
“It was a coaching decision to go with [less players] and we’re happy they’re all back,” said Hamilton, who will be joined on the coaching staff this season by holdovers Tressa Galusha and Dave Kaemingh, along with new assistant coach Pat Langtry.
“It bodes well for us to have all these veterans back for understanding the systems we play and getting off to a good start his season,” he remarked.
“The leaders are certainly going to be our fourth-year players.”
These include Grade 12 forward Annalise (CC) Hayes, the squad’s leading scorer in each of her first three seasons who is not expected to have any significant drop-off in offensive production even with both of her former linemates now gone.
Other seniors back up front are fellow Grade 12s Jenna Clendenning, Taylor Croswell, as well as Hanna LeDrew and Kelsey Langtry.
Also suiting up again is Jess Steele, who decided to return for a “victory lap” season.
Steele, in her first season with the Muskies, fought her way from being one of two extra forwards to start last year to getting time on the top line.
Grade 11 forwards back in the fold include Siobhan Mackintosh and Reece McQuaker while the lone Grade 10 up front is Jill Calder.
“I have high expectations for the likes of Reece and Kelsey, and really high ones for CC, Jenna, and ‘Cros,'” said Hamilton.
“I believe Jill could have a breakout season.
“But it’s about putting yourself in the best position to succeed and coming ready to play every night,” he reiterated.
Hamilton said he likely would keep at least two still-to-be determined players on the roster as affiliate players to be called up in case of emergency due to injury or absence of one of the regulars.
On defence, the team is welcoming back Grade 12 veteran Avery Cates, along with Lillie MacKinnon (Grade 12), Alex Gartzke and Emily Kaun (both Grade 11).
The only new face on the roster at the moment is Grade 12 rookie Khali DeGagne.
An unnamed sixth blueliner may be added before the season starts once the player returns from an injury and goes through a short-term tryout process on their own.
Hamilton explained how DeGagne was able to break through the iron curtain of veterans to carve out a place on this year’s squad.
“She’s a very good skater and is calm with the puck,” he remarked.
“She’s got a great presence on the blueline and we’re hoping to see that great slapshot of hers on a regular basis.
“We’ll work with her and I think she’ll have a great year,” he added.
With the Muskies having rock-steady goaltending already in place in the form of Grade 12 veteran Sydney Beck and second-year player Kamryn Sandelovich (Grade 10), no one else showed up to challenge them for their roster spots.
“We’re fortunate to have two solid goalies,” conceded Hamilton.
“Whatever formula we go with, we know they will support one another while also competing with one another.
“We’ll give them even playing time throughout most of the season, and then we’ll assess things when we get to the point of our bigger games,” he noted.
The Muskies reached the quarter-finals at OFSAA last season in Stratford before losing a tough 6-5 decision to the All Saints Titans (Whitby) on a late third-period goal.
Hamilton said the possibility of taking things further this season rests on the shoulders of his mostly battle-tested crew.
“Whether they’ve been here for one year or three or four years, it boils down to whether they’re up for the challenge,” he reasoned.
The squad begins full team practices this Monday before playing for the first time as a squad Oct. 19-22 in Winnipeg at the Husky Classic hosted by Sturgeon Creek Secondary High School.
The Muskies then will host the annual Scott Clendenning Memorial Showcase the following weekend.