M’CHIGEENG – It’s hockey season once more on Manitoulin Island and Mike Meeker, the coach of the Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) Mustangs girls’ team, says his team is looking good and ready for an ‘interesting’ season.
“In past seasons, as you know, we’ve been really lucky to have one goalie. This year, we’ve got three. They’re all in Grade 9 and they’re all really good goaltenders,” says Mr. Meeker.
An aspect that makes this season particularly interesting is that the divisional structure has been overhauled to match that of the boys’ league. Rather than declaring whether they intend to play in the A or B division at the beginning of the year, the girls’ teams will play every other team once in a round robin format.
“There’s a couple of real powerhouses; Lo-Ellen is probably going to be unbeatable. They were last year and are fundamentally the same team, if not better,” Mr. Meeker says, adding that while his team might not be right at the top, he is confident that they will be an upper-middle force. “Our girls will probably be able to compete with anybody else.”
Four girls have graduated out of the Mustangs’ ranks for this season, changing the dynamic after last year’s record-breaking team. Gabby Corbiere, a Grade 12 student last year who Mr. Meeker had thought would be leaving the team, is back for a victory lap and is on the team roster once again.
“We’ve got a good mix of older and younger players,” says Mr. Meeker. “We’re going to be good as the girls get back into playing the system I want to play. It’ll change the system this year because there’s a different look to the team. Once we get a hang of that, I think we’re going to be real competitive.”
Just as he had remarked last year, Mr. Meeker says the dynamic between the players is just as strong and connected as last year’s team, something they could prove on the hours-long road trips to play games in Sudbury.
The defence of this year’s team is shaping up to be a strong force and Mr. Meeker says he has six strong players in that position.
“I told the defence from day one that I want them to be offence-minded, to jump into the play whenever they can; I think we can do that this year. Some of our defensive players are good skaters and good puck handlers, and I want them to put pressure on the other teams,” says Mr. Meeker.
At a recent east-west tournament, Mr. Meeker had the first chance to see the girls in action. They only had one practice before the showdown. Their first match was against Bishop Carter.
“They’re one of our real competitors and are always right at the top with us. It was a really close, good game. They beat us 2-1 after a flukey goal at the end, but it was really even,” he says.
The second game was against the titans on the Lo-Ellen team which ended in a big fall for the Mustangs of 7-0.
“It was obvious when we played them that they were good, even though they’re missing four or five AA midget players. They’re going to be really strong and I don’t think they’ll have much fun in this league,” says Mr. Meeker.
The Mustangs have recently faced down Espanola. Mr. Meeker describes them as a ‘scrappy’ team and, while his girls rarely get into kerfuffles, the times that they do are generally when playing Espanola. There was a brawl at the game that saw three girls with injuries and two that got ejected from the match.
“Nobody was hurt. Our girls threw a few punches but they kept their gloves on,” says Mr. Meeker. It was a close game as well but ended in a 3-1 defeat for the Mustangs.
“Espanola had one really good player who I don’t think they had last year. She scored two quick ones on us before we made the adjustments to shut her down,” he says.
Espanola’s goalie is known for being among the best in the league and despite the challenges of losing so many players and being down on the scoreboard, Mr. Meeker says his girls responded very well to the last-minute changes to deal with the circumstances, including playing shorthanded and double-shifting players.
“For us, we’ve got to work on getting goals every way we can—deflections, rebounds; we don’t score a whole lot of end-to-end rushes,” says Mr. Meeker.
Although last year’s powerhouse team is unlikely to be repeated at any point in the foreseeable future, Mr. Meeker says he is very optimistic about the prospects of this year’s group.
“They’re a smart bunch and they listen, so I think we’re going to improve quite quickly,” he says. “It’s going to be really fun to watch how they improve and get better as the year goes on. For me, at least, that’s the fun.”
Mr. Meeker concludes by saying he is excited for what this season will bring.
“I don’t think they’re going to disappoint. It’s going to be a fun year and, if anything, we’ve got the potential to improve even more than last year’s team,” he says. “We’re going to beat teams with even more talent because we’re going to be disciplined and play the system well. I’ve got a lot of confidence in them.”
The 2019-2020 Mustangs girls team players are Tessa Bellmore, Delaney Bridgeman (new), Gabby Corbiere, Aysia Debassige (new), Whittier Gauthier, Harmony Kaiser-Fox, Randi Lovelace, Laura Orford, Mya Otosquaiob, Jorja Peltier (goal, new), Hailey Prior, Zoë Redmond, Macie Setterington (goal, new), Avery Sheppard, Lindsay Sheppard, Jenna Taylor, Jacey Varey and Bailey Yaschuk.