Let the real show begin.
After concluding its pre-season schedule with a pair of controlled scrimmages against host Bemidji High School on Saturday, the Muskie girls' hockey team now can set its sights on NorWOSSA regular-season action.
That gets underway this coming Tuesday (Nov. 14) when the black-and-gold hosts the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora) at 7:30 p.m. at the '52 Canadians Arena.
The Kenora Broncos then come to town Nov. 21 and again Nov. 28 for 7:15 p.m. clashes at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The Muskies then are scheduled to play their first road game of the season Nov. 29 in Sioux Lookout against the Queen Elizabeth Warriors.
“I feel our players are excited to play each and every game,” head coach Todd Hamilton said Monday morning in an e-mailed response to the Times.
“NorWOSSA has been a highly-competitive league since I started [coaching] with Scott Clendenning four seasons ago,” he noted.
“Close games determined how each team finished the season and certainly any team in NorWOSSA can advance in playoffs.”
And Hamilton sees it even moreso this season.
“All the teams are competitive and any team can win,” he stressed.
"I attribute it to ongoing school/community support, dedicated coaching in each program, and the grassroots girls' hockey programs in each community developing new players.
“The skill level in NorWOSSA girls' hockey is impressive,” he added.
The Muskies were supposed to play both Bemidji High School and Northern Lakes on Saturday, but the latter team couldn't attend due to the weather.
So the black-and-gold faced off against Bemidji twice.
“The team played very well," Hamilton said. ”Bemidji has a couple of forwards that will play college hockey in the near future [but] we matched their speed and strength.
With Kamryn Sandelovich competing at the OFSAA cross-country championships on Saturday in Petawawa, Sydney Beck played both games in goal.
“She made some keys saves when we needed it,” Hamilton lauded.
As well, Jessica Steele could not make the trip due to the 'flu bug but Makenna Hentonen, one of team's alternate players, helped complete the Muskies' three-line forward roster.
“She played very well,” noted Hamilton, adding Hentonen and Hannah Degagne have been practising and running dryland with the team since September.
“Being an alternate player is certainly a challenge," he conceded. "Basically, you practise but may not get to play.”
But Hamilton expects the team will need them throughout the season, given colds/'flu and injuries happen.
“Both have a great attitude," he remarked. "They are learning from our veteran players and they work very hard in practice.”
The Muskies will not have played for 10 days when they face the Saints in their season-opener next Tuesday but Hamilton doesn't think the break will have much of an impact.
“Our seasons are pretty much the same year-to-year," he noted. ”We always have a busy start and then we settle into a regular schedule of league and exhibition games.
“We played nine games in 11 days to start the season,” he added.
“Now we can increase the intensity of our practices and the players will be ready to go.”
Hamilton said the team needs to work on maintaining its high tempo of play.
“When our players are moving their feet and playing with energy, they are most effective,” he stressed.
“Prior to Bemidji, I felt we needed to work on some things in our own end but the players seemed to work that out this weekend,” Hamilton added.
"We played well in our own end [and] didn't rely on ringing the puck on the boards to break out.
“Our defence skated the puck out of our end, made great first passes, and followed up in the play,” he recalled.
"We also had a lot of back-checking support from our forwards.
“To me, it all falls back to high temp, moving our feet, and playing three full periods of hockey,” he stressed.
Having most of the team back from last year's squad, with the exception of four players, also has been a benefit.
“That allow us more time to increase the tempo and intensity of our practices and less on learning the systems we play,” Hamilton reasoned.
“This is key for us this season. We have to play high tempo,” he reiterated.
The Muskie boys' hockey team also kicks off its NorWOSSA regular season next Tuesday (Nov. 14) against St. Thomas Aquinas at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The squad then will host the Kenora Broncos on Nov. 21 and Nov. 28 before heading out for its first road game Dec. 5 versus the Dryden Eagles.