Scott Clendenning was all about picking one’s self up after a setback, standing tall, and moving forward.
That’s what this year’s edition of the Muskie girls’ hockey team will do, but the program’s most successful head coach ever will be a big part of everything they do even though he no longer walks the bench.
“The goal is to keep everything normal as possible,” said Todd Hamilton, who steps up from his assistant’s role last season to take over for his best friend after Clendenning died of a heart attack at age 48 just four days after the season ended back in March.
“We want them to keep their thinking best they can within the boundaries of playing hockey,” added Hamilton, who will be joined by new assistant coach Dave Kaemingh.
“We will remember our good friend and coach but we don’t want it to be the focus of the season,” he stressed.
That ambition will be tempered by the reality of the situation for Hamilton and especially his 11 returning veterans, who all were part of the historic Muskie team led by Clendenning that won its second-straight NorWOSSA title and then its first-ever OFSAA medal by claiming silver at the ‘A/AA’ girls’ championship in Kenora.
For starters, the team—in a move thought up by the players—will wear special decals on their helmets with Clendenning’s initials on them, with the ‘S’ mirroring the one on the “Superman” logo.
Then there will be the team’s annual pre-season home tournament on Oct. 30-Nov. 1, which is expected to be renamed the Scott Clendenning Memorial Tournament at a meeting later this week between Hamilton and the players’ parents.
“I hope it’s something he’d be proud of, and it’s a good way to honour and remember him,” said Hamilton.
As for the team itself, there is much more of an air of mystery surrounding how things may turn out this season than in the previous two NorWOSSA-winning campaigns.
The biggest suspense among the 20-player roster (no practice squad players for the second-straight year) undoubtedly can be found between the pipes.
Three years of outstanding work by the combination of Kate Parsons and Calie Clendenning culminated in the Grade 12 pair backstopping the Muskies on their unforgettable journey to the OFSAA final against the St. Michael Warriors from Stratford, who prevailed 5-1.
But that dynamite duo has moved on, with Parsons heading to university while Clendenning will make the move to follow in her dad’s coaching footsteps as she will be the goaltending instructor for the Muskies this season.
She’ll be saddled with the sizable task of getting a pair of high school hockey rookies ready for action in the form of Grade 10 player Sydney Beck and Grade 11 member Marissa Loveday.
“Sydney has a lot of calmness in net but we need to work on her coming out and attacking more,” Hamilton said about the former Emo Express Bantam girls’ standout.
“Marissa also has a calm demeanour, and she’s got a good glove and a real presence in the net with a little more aggression,” he added.
But Hamilton isn’t about to stray from what worked for his more veteran tandem of goalies the past few seasons.
“We want to concentrate on the development aspect of Muskie hockey,” he stressed.
“So we’re going to continue to use our goalies 50-50 until we have to make some choices.”
Along the blueline, the Muskies will feature an even mix of battle-tested rearguards and fresh faces who will need to fill the void left by graduated defenders Mallory Payne and Alexis Perreault.
Grade 12 defender Sam McKinnon will reunite with Grade 11 colleague Lauren Vold and Grade 10 member Avery Cates to provide plenty of speed, puck-handling savvy, and mobility from the back end.
“All three are capable of creating offence and I’m going to be asking them to do that this year,” said Hamilton.
“They’re all strong defensively but we’re going to need them to help out with offence, too.”
The trio will be joined by Grade 12 newcomer Moriah Carradice and the Grade 11 duo of Sara Jackson and Abby Plourde.
Carradice, from Rainy River, played for the Lake of the Woods Bears in Baudette last season and also has played Midget boys’ hockey in the past.
“Moriah was a nice surprise for us as she was very solid at tryouts,” lauded Hamilton.
“She adds size to our back end and she’s got a solid, hard shot.
“Sara and Abby bring a lot of jump and a lot of energy to the lineup, although Sara has a little more size and grit and Abby adds a little more offensive touch,” he added.
Up front, the Muskies lost two-thirds of their top line in captain Amy Penner and speedster Jessica Coran, along with the strong all-around play of Kaily Greengrass.
But the cupboard is far from bare of quality forwards who can put the puck in the net among the seven holdovers.
Annalise (CC) Hayes is the top returning scorer after a terrific Grade 9 season that saw her score the game-winner late in the OFSAA semi-final against the Timmins Blues to put Fort High into the gold-medal game.
“CC is in mid-season form and ready to go,” Hamilton noted after watching the Grade 10 sniper rack up all six of her side’s goals in a 6-2 win for Team Red over Team White in the final scrimmage session at the tryouts.
Grade 12 returnee Rylee Redford also had a noteworthy camp in Hamilton’s eyes.
“Rylee came back in mid-season shape, and you can tell she has a little more speed and confidence with the puck,” he remarked.
“She has a very strong shot and she’s going to be able to use it a lot.”
Redford and Hayes will be joined by Grade 11 veterans Lauren Hamilton, Janelle Kaemingh, and Emma Noga, along with Grade 10 contributors Jenna Clendenning and Taylor Croswell.
An eighth veteran taking on a new role this season is Grade 12 member Rachel Jean, who will shift from her defence spot for much of the past two season up front in what Hamilton sees as a move brimming with possibilities.
“I’m excited to see Rachel up front with her speed and skill,” he enthused.
“We’ll certainly miss her on defence but this is her year to shine.
“She has tried it out at forward before and has always wanted to get back there,” Hamilton added.
“So we’ll give it a shot and see what happens.”
A quartet of new forwards include three Grade 10s in Siobhan MacKintosh, Kelsey Langtry, and Hanna LeDrew and the lone Grade 9 on the squad this year, Emo Express Bantam girls’ standout Reece McQuaker.
“The camp was very competitive and to choose just four additional forwards was very difficult,” Hamilton admitted.
“The three Grade 10s have similar games, although each have their own individual talents.
“As for Reece, I can really see her developing into a power centre,” he noted.
“She just needs the practice time. She’s a good skater with a long reach and she sees the ice well.”
The Muskies will be in dryland training for the next two weeks, then begin their on-ice sessions Sept. 28—leading up to their first action at the Sturgeon Heights Huskies tournament Oct. 22-25 in Winnipeg.
That will be the first step on the path to what Hamilton hopes is a third-straight NorWOSSA crown and another trip to OFSAA.
The hosts? None other than St. Michael’s themselves, who will attempt to retain their title on home ice.
“It’s the goal in high school hockey every year to get to the all-Ontarios, and that’s our goal this year,” Hamilton declared.
“It’s no easy task,” he warned. “Dryden is going to have an excellent team back and is going to be one of the top teams again this year.
“I wouldn’t count out the two Kenora teams, either [St. Thomas Aquinas Saints and Kenora Broncos],” added Hamilton. “They’re always tough.
“And the Sioux Lookout [Warriors] are on the verge of being very competitive.
“We’re not making a goal to go undefeated,” Hamilton said. “But the last couple of years, we’ve been able to put a good string of wins together early on.
“If we can duplicate that, I’ll be happy.”