After weeks of drills, conditioning, and more drills, the Muskie girls’ hockey team is well past the point of being anxious to get its new season underway.
The two-time defending NorWOSSA champs—and reigning OFSAA silver-medalists—begin their march to a possible third-straight trip to the all-Ontarios by trying to defend their title at the Sturgeon Heights Huskies Tournament in Winnipeg this weekend.
New head coach Todd Hamilton, who will try to fill the huge skates of best friend, Scott Clendenning, after the latter’s sudden passing back in March, said the squad is showing early signs of being able to maintain Fort High’s high level of success.
“I’m really happy with what I’ve seen so far,” said Hamilton.
“When they did their fitness training at Energy Fitness, the work ethic they showed there has continued out on the ice,” he noted.
“The girls are ready to get their lunch pails out and get to work.”
Hamilton, who will be joined behind the bench by assistant coaches Dave Kaemingh and Trevor McKinnon, along with teacher rep Tressa Galusha, has done his best to re-create game-like situations in training camp.
Trying doesn’t necessarily mean succeeding, though.
“It’s something you can’t really duplicate,” he admitted.
“It will take them playing their first games together as a team to find out where they’re at.”
One of the more challenging tasks of the pre-season for many hockey coaches is finding line combinations that will click during the regular season—and Hamilton is no exception.
“What I’m trying to do is have balanced lines so that we can get scoring from each line,” said Hamilton, who has switched his combinations twice so far during training camp.
“I’ve been coached in my career to have one line with scoring punch, one line with defensive prowess, and one line that’s an energy line that gives the other teams’ first and second lines trouble,” he noted.
At practices last week, last year’s leading scorer Annalise Hayes was skating alongside fellow veterans Rylee Redford and Jenna Clendenning.
“We need to give [Hayes] some players around her to support her with speed,” stressed Hamilton.
“It’s tough to replace the speed we had last year in [graduates] Amy Penner and Jessica Coran.”
Another all-veteran line featured Janelle Kaemingh, Lauren Hamilton, and Taylor Croswell while newcomer Siobhan Mackintosh was lined up with veterans Rachel Jean and Emma Noga.
The final line was comprised of rookies Kelsey Langtry, Hanna LeDrew, and Reece McQuaker, the lone Grade 9 player on the team.
When it comes to the blueline, it’s a 50-50 split between veterans and newcomers.
Sam McKinnon (Grade 12) and Lauren Vold (Grade 11) will team with Grade 10 sophomore Avery Cates to provide the leadership in the back end.
Rainy River import Moriah Carradice, a Grade 12 player who spent last season with the Lake of the Woods Bears (Baudette), also will provide some veteran knowledge.
The Grade 11 duo of Sara Jackson and Abby Plourde round out the defence brigade.
“I’m carrying on Scott’s philosophy that the defence has to be mobile and move the puck,” said Hamilton.
“In 90 percent of our practices, we practice moving the puck and working on break-outs,” he noted.
“We need lots of scoring from the back end and, of course, have them be solid in their own end.”
Meanwhile, the new goaltending duo of Sydney Beck (Grade 10) and Marissa Loveday (Grade 11) are getting a baptism by fire in practice so far in terms of the abundance of pucks they’re facing.
“They’ve been surprised at the pace of practice,” noted Hamilton. “They’re seeing lots of shots by design and I think they have been adjusting well.
“We’ll see how things go in Winnipeg,” he added.
Jean was chosen by the Muskie coaches to wear the captain’s ‘C’ in her Grade 12 year, with fellow seniors Redford and McKinnon, along with Vold, being named alternates.
“One may have a ‘C’ and the others an ‘A’ but all four captains are equal,” Hamilton stressed.
“As a group, they have all put in three years with the team and understand the work ethics and commitment necessary,” he noted.
“They learned from seniors like Kaily Greengrass and Mallory Payne, and saw how hard they worked and their commitment to each other,” said Hamilton.
“I hope they pass that on to the other players.”
The Sturgeon Heights tourney served as a launch pad for the Muskies’ season a year ago as Fort High took home the title.
“We got on quite a roll there,” Hamilton recalled.
“When we ran into the stronger teams late on the Saturday and on the Sunday who were so big, we were prepared well,” he noted.
It’s that attention to preparation, taught to him by Clendenning, that has Hamilton in a good frame of mind as he prepares to take over as head coach.
“I was fortunate to work with Scott,” he remarked. “It was an education and a pleasure to do it.
“I want to carry on with the team in the same way.”