A new face was behind the Muskie girls’ bench during the team’s annual home tournament this past weekend—and she’s there to stay.
Michelle Veldhuisen officially has joined fellow coaches Mel Langtry and Rudy Anderson, making her the first female coach in the program’s history.
“I have been a fan of the Muskie girls’ program for quite a few years,” Veldhuisen explained. “I actually coached a few of the girls in the house league program in Fort Frances.
“I started coaching when I graduated from college because I had many great coaches in the past that contributed to my love of the game, and I wanted to pass that on,” she added.
Also new to the program this year is school rep Sarah Arpin—giving the team a one-two female punch it’s lacked in previous years.
Arpin is the acting school board rep for the team, keeping the girls academically accountable while performing other administrative tasks. She also has a prominent role on the bench as a trainer.
Veldhuisen said she hopes to act as a female mentor for the players both on and off the ice.
“I think the reason I was asked to join the coaching staff this year was because parents had expressed concern about the absence of a coach in the dressing room,” Veldhuisen said.
“As well as a female mentor figure that the girls can approach if there are issues that the male coaches might not be comfortable dealing with.
“I am happy to be able to be that person,” Veldhuisen enthused.
“People may think I’m doing these girls a favour by being a part of this program, but it is the most rewarding part of my life,” she added.
“I may not be that old, but I know being a teenage girl today is tougher now than it ever has been.
“Talking to these girls about what they experience, and the challenges they face, makes me a better teacher and a better person,” she reasoned.
Even before their silver-medal winning performance in their tournament, Veldhuisen had said the team really has come together in a short time and looks primed for a successful season.
“[There’s] a great group of girls on the team this year, and Mel, Rudy, Sarah, and I have been impressed with their attitude and effort both on and off the ice,” she remarked.
“I have also been really encouraged by the parents of the players.
“They are a family themselves, in that they have a common goal, and that is for the Muskie program to be one that the community can be proud of, want to be part of, and support,” she stressed.
Veldhuisen hopes she can help the girls flourish on the ice and in the classroom.
“I also hope to work along with the girls and the coaching staff to remove some of the negative stigma that sometimes comes along with being a student-athlete,” she noted.
“I hope to instill in these girls an appreciation for a well-rounded high school experience. Not only are they role models because of what they do on the ice, but they can serve as role models in the classroom, as well.”
The most rewarding part of the job, according to Veldhuisen, is simply interacting and bonding with the players.
“The best part of the experience is getting to know the girls themselves,” she explained. “They are a great bunch, and they definitely keep me laughing.
“A couple of them I have known for years and they are like little sisters to me.
“I think the community needs to know that they are being represented by an amazing group of young women,” Veldhuisen added. “My goal is that these girls recognize how fortunate they are to be playing at the highest level available for girls’ hockey in this area, and also realize that there are little girls all across the district who hope to one day be just like them.
“This is a huge responsibility, and I am proud to say that these ladies are definitely up for the challenge,” she lauded.