SACKVILLE, N.B. – A slow start has become a trademark of the Mount Allison Mounties women’s hockey team, but things looked up early this season as the ladies split their first four outings.
But an onslaught of team-crippling injuries combined with some plain bad luck sees them sitting in the bottom of the conference after 12 games and entering the midterm break with a 1-9 record in their last 10 matches.
Coach Terry Rhindress, ever the optimist and in his first shot as head coach, predicts things will improve from this point onward, and based on history it is possible the Mounties could catch a playoff spot.
It may be recalled that then coach Zach Ball led the squad on one occasion from what appeared to be a disastrous season to the conference final after pulling off a true upset of the St. Francis powerhouse only to fall to University of Moncton in a memorable three-game set.
The teams split the first two by single goal margins and the final shifted to Moncton where the hosts managed to repeat with a one-goal victory, giving them the series 2-1 and by a three-game total of a single goal.
With several new faces in the lineup, it has taken some time for Rhindress to install a new system to ensure each player understands her role. He says the work ethic has been more than he could ever have hoped as the veterans and rookies have bonded well and it is simply a matter of time before it all comes together.
So, on top of all the other problems facing a new coach, the injury bug has hit with a vengeance with several key players forced to miss games.
“I must say, though, that others have stepped up and done yeoman work in face of these injuries,” said Rhindress, “and surely we won’t have to go with patched lineups during the second half because of injuries.”
The coach said prior to the season the team would take on a whole new culture and he believes that is taking place as a new “grit” has been demonstrated with most games going down to the wire.
There have been several one-goal games, a couple of overtime losses and just one blowout – that coming against highly ranked St. F.X.
“When everything we did went wrong, while each time they got an opportunity the puck found the back of our net.”
It’s often been said university hockey is the best quality outside of the pros. This has been shown time and again as a hastily assembled USport team recently defeated the best the juniors have to offer. And a number of players from this region have moved directly to play in the American Hockey League.
And the same holds true with the women – university hockey is an elite game. Rhindress says turnouts at games played at the local civic centre have grown with a solid group of local residents discovering an inexpensive and enjoyable evening of hockey.
In hopes of having a fully healed squad ready and eager to turn the record upside down from this point on Rhindress scheduled no exhibition games or tournaments over the holiday period, but they were asked to report back to Sackville early so more work could be carried out on systems before they went into competition.
And when asked, Rhindress said Abby Beale is one of his key players, while Lauren Shaw has shown flashes of brilliance – two local ladies who got their start in the local minor hockey program.