JAYâ€“After a fantastic season in his first year at the helm of the North Country girl's hockey team, coach Clause Paul's squad has added even more horsepower to an already potent line-up.
The Falcons have gotten stronger in every facet of the game, from defense, to offense, but most notably, in goal.
Last season Tara Langmaid did an admirable job of stepping into Meghan Simpson's skates after Simpson went down due to injury, but at times her inexperience showed.
Now, for the first time in a long time, the team has an incoming goaltender who has experience, not only playing hockey, but more importantly, being a goaltender.
Freshman Mikaella Doran, whose previous playing experience includes the same Shamrock program that Emilie Paul, Corrina Cota, Taylor Morley and Whitney Bernier have skated for, will be between the pipes for North Country, eliminating the biggest weakness from the 2011-2012 season.
"We're glad that Mikaella has moved into our district and can play for us this year," said head coach Claude Paul.
Paul, who has coached Mikaella before with the Shamrocks, knows that he is getting; a quality goaltender that has experience, a must if you want to achieve any level of success at the high school level.
Said Doran, "I've played for St. Albans, Burlington, the Stars, the Shamrocks, and I'm very excited to be up here playing with these girls."
Last year the team had to play a very protective style of D-zone coverage, blocking the maximum amount of shots possible to protect their netminder.
Now they can move to a more traditional style, which should allow for a quicker transition game.
"I am hoping to play more up-tempo and not so much close to the vest in our own zone," said Paul. "Now we can get the puck out and really wheel with it, not just with the forwards, but with defensive support, and really go up ice.
"Last year we kind of had to take everything away, or try to take everything away, but now with an established goaltender back there, we can play the angle and give up the shot outside."
In front of Doran, North Country added Lyndon Institute junior Emily Doty, who spent last season lacing up the skates for her school's boy's team.
"It is definitely different compared to the boy's game," said Doty. "The pace and mentality vary. Sometimes I miss the physicality of the boy's game, because that is what the defense is for, put a hit on the man and separate them from the puck. I guess it is a little harder with girls because it requires a little more skill to get the puck, not just brute force."
Doty joins Paul, Megan Campbell and Kerrianne Little on the blue line, brings a much appreciated size and grit that hasn't been seen since Emily Pecue graduated.
"It is definitely going to help us having her out there," said Paul. "Now we'll always have an Emily on the ice."
Paul of course is speaking of the other Emilie on the blue line, his daughter, who played anywhere from thirty to forty minutes a game last season.
With Doty on board, Paul's workload just got a lot lighter and the Falcons added another weapon to their already potent offense.
Speaking of offense, there should be plenty of that this season.
North Country will be able to roll three lines on consistent basis, allowing the Falcons to have two potent scoring lines, and a third checking line, as much as you can have a checking line in girl's hockey, to grind out minutes and wear the opposition down.
Whitney Bernier, the team's top scorer form last season, will be teamed up with Taylor Morley and Ashlee Daigle to provide one wave of the offense.
Last season Bernier played with a variety of wingers, and a common play was get the puck to Whitney at the blue line and let her go in on goal.
Seriously, the amount of times that one of Bernier's goals started out with either Adrianna Fournier, Daigle or one of the Moss sisters tipping the puck to Whit at the blue line is staggering.
Now, Morley and Bernier will be able to weave some of that on-ice magic that they have found in recent months with the Shamrocks.
"I'm excited because we've been playing together a lot during Shamrocksâ€™ games and we seemed to connect and work well down low," said Bernier on the addition of Morley to her line.
With Morley joining the Bernier, that allows Cota to move to center as she will be in between two talented freshman, Anyas Morin and Savannah Albergini Giroux.
"They are both really good players and very strong, plus I am a really excited to get back to playing center," said Cota
Last year saw a bit of a drop for Cota, and Paul believes the move back to center will help her get back that spark that seemed to be missing at times.
"She's excited, I'm excited, and I think we can get the fire back in her a little bit," Paul said. "Anyas and Savannah are both accomplished players who played Border last year, and along with Corrina, they should be a goody speedy line."
The third line will have arguably the two most hard-nosed players in the league ready to wear out the Falcon's opponents; The Moss sisters, Jenna and Crystal.
North Country's answer to Slap Shot's Hanson Brothers, Jenna and Crystal literally give everything they have out on the ice.
They, are both willing shot blockers, and when you add Adrianna Fournier to mix, the trio give Paul a hard-working line that will do anything it takes to get the win.
Said the coach, "Adrianna will definitely add to them, because they kind of have their own language and kind of run around the ice, where as she is a more up and down her wing player, so they will always have her as an outlet."
In fact, Crystal and her new teammate Doty had a literal run-in during the fall, as she bowled over Emily during the NCU-LI soccer game, knocking Doty out of the game.
Asked if she and Crystal have talked about the incident, Doty replied with a laugh, "No I haven't talked to her at all about that."
All that being said, let's not go crazy and proclaim the team champs just yet.
Their schedule will feature a few wrinkles in it as they will open against Division I South Burlington, who merged with MMU this season, as well as play against another D I opponent, Hartford, this year.
"We have a really tough schedule to start and people might look at our record after a few games and say 'ooooo', but bear with us, by the new year we should be turning the corner and piling up the wins," Paul said. â€œWe'll have our work cut out for us against South Burlington and I am hoping we can skate with Hartford. My goal is to be competitive with South Burlington and try to get a win against Hartford."
Talent? No question it is there, but much like any team that gets a huge infusion of new faces (Lakers anybody?), the girls will need some time to work out the kinks before they really get into the groove of the season.
That starts this Saturday at the Ice Haus at 5:00, when the new look Rebels/Cougars come and pay their first visit to Jay Peak to open the 2012-2013 season.