Muskie girls set compass for Kenora

Joey Payeur

The Muskie girls’ hockey team turned in the first undefeated campaign in NorWOSSA girls’ hockey history last season.
The squad went on to capture the league title and qualify for the OFSAA ‘AA’ girls’ tournament for the first time ever—making it all the way to the quarter-finals before bowing out.
Now for the best part. An encore may not be as difficult as one would think because, scary as it sounds for the rest of NorWOSSA, the Muskies actually might be even better this season.
For head coach Scott Clendenning, it’s a matter of starting the season as though it never finished.
“You pick up right where you left off at OFSAA in terms of your level of play,” said Clendenning, who will be joined behind the bench by returning assistant coach/trainer Michelle Veldhuisen and new assistant coach Todd Hamilton, who replaces Larry Beck.
“You go forward and create better hockey every day,” he explained.
“We do that and we have an opportunity to have real good success this year.”
Fort High enters the season minus four of its top nine forwards from last season in captain Shelby Tymkin, Katie Sinclair, Shilo Beck, and Hailey Clendenning, who all will suit up this fall for the Rainy River Community College Voyageurs over in International Falls.
But that has been more than offset with a massive infusion of new talent, which will allow the Muskies to ice four lines this season instead of just the three they carried a year ago.
“Up front, we are blessed with great speed and skill,” enthused Clendenning, who still is formulating what the lines will be at this point.
“We want to be hard on other teams and all four lines can bring that to the table,” he noted.
The veteran forwards are all Grade 12s and include new captain Amy Penner, alternate captains Kaily Greengrass and Claire Sandelovich, as well as Amber Jourdain and Jessica Coran.
They will be joined by last year’s practice roster members Rylee Redford (Grade 11) and Emma Noga (Grade 10), Grade 10 newcomers Lauren Hamilton and Janelle Kaemingh, and Grade 9 rookies Taylor Croswell, Annalise Hayes, and Jenna Clendenning.
“It’s the first time we’ve had four lines and it’s a good thing,” said Sandelovich.
“With so many seniors on this team, we need to get the Grade 9s and 10s more involved this year,” she added.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of experience on defence for the black-and-gold, with only graduated senior Sarah Milling not back.
Grade 12 alternate captain Mallory Payne and fellow senior Alexis Perreault, along with Grade 11 players Sam McKinnon and Rachel Jean, and Grade 10 returnee Lauren Vold all have valuable OFSAA experience under their belts.
The only rookie on the blueline is ninth-grader Avery Cates from Emo.
“Our defence is highly-skilled and play a strong, aggressive game,” noted Clendenning.
“What we’ve been working on with them is to have them be more involved in the play up front,” he said.
Good defence gets better in a hurry with reliable goaltending behind it—and the rest of NorWOSSA will be hard-pressed to top the Muskies’ Grade 12 tandem of Calie Clendenning and Kate Parsons.
“Both are solid and as coach, it’s a great problem to have,” reasoned Scott Clendenning, who platooned the pair from start to finish last season and likely will do the same this year.
“We can count on Kate or Calie every night,” he said.
“We want all our players, but especially our goaltenders, to play more aggressive,” Clendenning added.
“Now that they understand the game, we’re going to see a lot more of that from them.”
Penner is ready to take on the test of leading a Muskie team which undoubtedly will get every opponent’s best effort each night as all will want to put a notch in their belts at the expense of the defending champs.
“It’s nice to be recognized as a leader by the coaching staff,” said Penner.
“It makes me realize I have to work harder and do my best to be a leader along the way,” she noted.
“We treasure the challenge,” Penner added. “It almost feels like a brand-new team because a lot of these girls haven’t experienced winning a championship or going to OFSAA yet.”
A huge incentive for the Muskies to hold onto their title is knowing another NorWOSSA crown will translate into a second-straight appearance at OFSAA, which this season will be held only two-and-a-half hours away in Kenora and Whitefish Bay, with the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints serving as host team.
“It would be pretty cool to see more of our hometown fans come down to watch and it will allow more parents to come, too,” Penner said.
“Plus, it will be easy to get noticed in Kenora for those hoping to maybe play college hockey one day.”
“I think we’re getting to the point with this program that we can make going to OFSAA as much of a tradition as it is for the Muskie boys,” noted Sandelovich.
“To have it in Kenora will be super and we want to definitely be back there again.”
As for Clendenning, he isn’t concerning himself with who might be the biggest threat to his team’s return OFSAA engagement.
“I’ve been coaching for so long now that I’ve learned the best thing is don’t worry about the other teams, just yourself,” he reasoned.
“If all the girls show up and play the way the can play, we will be successful.”
Fort High takes its first strides towards OFSAA with an opening pre-season tournament at the Sturgeon Heights Invitational in Winnipeg, running Friday through Sunday.
The Muskies are in a pool with the Springfield Sabres and Oak Park Raiders, both from Winnipeg.
They’ll take on Springfield at 3 p.m. on Friday, followed by a game with the Raiders at 7 p.m.