The Muskie girls' hockey team has already been put to the test against some stiff competition and is looking like a well-oiled machine as it gets ready to open the NorWOSSA regular season in just under a week.
To get even more prepared for the challenges that may lie ahead this hockey season, the Muskies made the trip to Thunder Bay over the weekend to compete at the Confederation College Tournament, where they came away with an impressive 3-2 record overall and a berth into the semifinals.
“With our limited amount of practices and game experience so far, the girls played really well,” enthused first-year Muskie head coach Nicole Clarke.
“For the most part, the girls did well executing what we've been working on in practices. It was impressive to see how well they worked together.”
The Muskies opened tourney play on Friday afternoon with a 4-1 win over the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora), who they play regularly in the NorWOSSA league.
Ellayna Kabel, Abbie Kenny, Tatum Glowasky, and Jill Calder all scored for the Muskies while Kamryn Sandelovich earned the win between the pipes.
Issy Taylor then scored twice to pace Fort High to a 4-0 shutout of the Thunder Bay Midget 'A' Queens that evening.
Kenny and Raelle Redford also lit the lamp in that one while Jersey Masson nabbed the victory in goal.
“We were extremely happy with their work ethic and determination,” Nicole said of the coaching staff's thoughts on the first two tournament games for the Muskies.
"Especially during our first game against T.A., the Saints scored first and the girls came back determined and kept up the intensity to bounce back and get on the board.
“During our game against the Queens, the Queens came out hard and aggressive,” she recalled.
“As coaches, we weren't sure how our girls would adjust to their physical style of play. However, we stepped up and demonstrated our ability to be aggressive and show some grit ourselves.”
The Muskies followed those wins up by eking out a 4-3 victory over the host Thunderhawks on Saturday afternoon on the strength of a pair of goals from Taylor.
Kathryn Fischer and Tatum Glowasky also bulged the twine for the black-and-gold while Masson again stood tall in goal, stopping every first shot and only being scored on when the Thunderhawks capitalized on rebounds and Muskie defensive breakdowns.
Fort High then ended round robin play with a tough 6-1 loss to the Manitoba North Stars that evening, but their 3-1 record still was good enough to earn it a berth into Sunday morning's semifinals.
Taylor supplied the lone goal for the Muskies in the loss to the North Stars.
The black-and-gold's good fortune officially came to end against a physical and higher-skilled Lakehead University Thunderwolves team as they nabbed a 4-0 shutout in the semis.
Masson played the first half of the first period in the loss and then after suffering a minor hand injury, Sandelovich went into finish the game.
“I think the biggest challenges presented to the girls were in our games that were against Confederation College, the Manitoba North Stars, and the LU Thunderwolves,” said Clarke.
"Those teams had players much older and stronger than our girls. I think the experience level and exposure to a high level and pace of hockey allowed those teams to capitalize on our areas of improvement.
“We were impressed with the girls' ability to stay in the game when we were down,” she added of the semifinal loss to the Thunderwolves.
"We had many chances, but the Thunderwolves' goalie played extremely well and we were unable to put the puck in the back of the net.
“LU was able to use their speed to create odd-man chances,” she recounted.
“It was a great game and a good learning experience for our girls. It gives us an opportunity to identify some areas of improvement.”
The Muskies next will be in action next Tuesday (Nov. 12) when they open the NorWOSSA regular season on the road against the Kenora Broncos.
Clarke is confident her squad's pre-season experience this year will pay dividends moving forward in league play.
“Overall, these games were crucial for our girls' improvement,” she stressed.
"Not only does it let us as coaches identify areas of improvement, but also with our three wins, it shows the girls they are a competitive team and gives them a boost of confidence heading into regular season.
“Our expectations are that the girls have a good grasp on what we are trying to accomplish in each zone and during different situations,” she said of the opening NorWOSSA game in Kenora next week.
"We also expect the girls to give 110 percent effort while on the ice. If they can give that, we will be happy regardless of the outcome.
“Ultimately, our goal is to make it to NorWOSSA playoffs,” Clarke noted.
“So, we want to win the games but—for right now—we want to focus on playing the right way.”