For the second year in a row the Muskie girls' hockey team will have a new head coach.
Chris Sinclair has moved over to head the Muskie boys' squad, giving Nicole Clarke the opportunity to step into the role for the girls.
Clarke will be joined behind the girls' bench this season by assistants Dylan Grinsell, who was the teacher rep for the boys previously, Jon Carlson, and Amy Penner.
“I am very excited and extremely grateful for the opportunity to coach the Muskie girls this season,” she enthused.
"I am really fortunate to have an amazing coaching staff this year, we are a young staff with a high energy level.
“Although each of us are experienced and knowledgeable in the game, our individual experiences differ,” she noted.
“This allowed us to come together with several different outlooks and coaching philosophies, with hopes of leading our team to a successful season.”
Clarke, who also is an occasional teacher here in Rainy River District, started playing girls' hockey at the age of seven, playing competitively until she went to Lakehead University to take Education.
Upon graduating, Clarke moved back to her hometown and worked with the Lindsay Junior 'A' Muskies of the Ontario Junior Hockey League for one season. In order to pursue her teaching career, she relocated to Fort Frances in hopes of getting involved in the community and, specifically, with girls' hockey.
Last year the Muskie girls' hockey roster was young, with a majority of the players being in Grade 9, where the black-and-gold finished with silver after falling to the Dryden Eagles in the NorWOSSA final and missing out on OFSAA after making it to the all-Ontarios the previous five years.
Now with another year of experience under their belts, Clarke is hopeful her squad will be able to have a successful season.
Returning to the Muskies this year are Kianna Antonick, Ashlyn Beck, Jill Calder, Kathryn Fischer, Tatum Glowasky, Ellayna Kabel, Abbie Kenny, Paiten Kinnear, Katrina Koomans, Jersey Masson, Issy Taylor, and Martina Woods.
After spending last season with the Thunder Bay Midget 'AA' Queens, Kamryn Sandelovich is returning to the crease for Fort High.
The newcomers are Hailey Bombay, Jerzi Calder, Piper Cross, and Raelle Redford, with Elizabeth Cousineau, Alicia Kress, and Isabella Fortes serving as the affiliate players.
“The team started practice on Monday, Oct. 21, we have been really focusing on ensuring all of the girls are familiar with the game positionally and progressing from there,” Clarke noted.
“We are trying to develop important skills with the girls individually in order to contribute to our team's overall success. In terms of our style of play, we have been completing drills that focus on specific skills and plays that will generate offence and take away opponent scoring opportunities.”
To get better prepared for the season ahead, the Muskies played the Borderland Chiefs women's hockey team in an exhibition game on Monday night at “The Duke” (Couchiching Arena).
Glowasky and Taylor both scored twice to pace the Muskies to a narrow 5-4 win in an exciting back-and-forth contest.
Jill Calder also lit the lamp for the black-and-gold while Sandelovich and Masson shared goaltending duties.
Fort High then will head to Thunder Bay this weekend for the Confederation College Tournament before opening the NorWOSSA regular season on Nov. 12 against the host Kenora Broncos.
“With our first game against the Chiefs, it gives the girls an opportunity to play as a team against an opponent who may not be familiar with our style of play,” said Clarke.
“It allows us to execute what we have been doing in practice and make small adjustments prior to the tournament, where we play a league opponent. We expect all of the exhibition games to be challenging and a great learning opportunity for the team.”
As far as expectations for her squad this NorWOSSA season, Clarke said the coaching staff isn't necessarily worried about standings or doing better than last year, but looking to improve the team.
“Of course, we don't want to fall short this year, but as for now, we are looking to improve as a team and I feel if we do that, everything else will fall into place,” she reasoned.
"I think that having a majority of our team being in Grade 9 last year was critical for our team development this year. It showed the girls what it takes to be a winning team at the NorWOSSA level.
“Especially with their playoff run, it allowed them to truly see what they are capable of and gain confidence in themselves as players,” she remarked.
"We feel as though we have a team that can play at a high pace and apply pressure, causing turnovers and odd-man rushes.
“In addition, we are confident in our goaltending and know that they will step up for us this year and make key saves,” Clarke lauded.
Outside of practice, Clarke said the team has also been focused on team building exercises.
“A lot of the girls have played together previously, so we want to continue building on the aspect of team,” she noted.
“Teamwork is something that is extremely important and I feel will really benefit this group with their chemistry on the ice.”