NEWPORTâ€“Despite graduating only one senior last season, it is a year of change for the North Country girls hockey team, and it starts at the top of the program.
The coaching staff has under gone a makeover that has former North Country player and long time Boarder Hockey coach Claude Paul taking the head coaching reigns from four year veteran Tracy Muzerall. Muzerall will continue to be a part of the staff, serving as an assistant to Paul, but realized she needed to focus on other aspects of her life.
"I wanted to spend time with my nephew who lives in Toronto," says the native Canadian, "I needed to step back from that role (head coach) in order to do that, but I still wanted to be a part of the team, so I made a choice to switch roles."
For the defensive minded Paul, the move to the head coaching position coincides with the advancement out of the youth ranks of several of his players
"I've been coaching in Boarder Minor Hockey for the last eight years, and now basically as my girls' teams are graduating into the high school program I have been fortunate enough to be able to follow."
Along with Muzerall, Tom Bernier joins the program and will be the other assistant to Paul. Long time assistant coach Mike Olmstead (yes I know I am writing this, but there is no really graceful way to insert ones' self into an article) will be behind the bench for a few games with Paul as well this season due to scheduling conflicts of the other two coaches.
Starting where all hockey teams must start, in goal, there was a shock to Paul and to many of his players when he found out that senior Megan Simpson would not be able to man the nets this season due to injury, forcing the coaching staff to rethink their plan of attack.
"We are going to have to adjust our game plan a little bit," said Paul," (We will)Try to play a little stronger defense, try to take away more opportunities from the opposing team through defense and forwards helping out. It can be done, it is jut a matter of everybody being on the same page."
Simpson, the backstop of the last two Falcon teams, had seen her game improve steadily in the last three years, but that will be all for naught as she re-aggravated the same lower body injury that prematurely ended her field hockey season this fall.
Taking over in net will be Tara Langmaid, who is in just her second year of hockey. Langmaid did see some in game action late last season which is a positive, and if she follows her predecessors model, could see some significant improvement in her game if she commits to Paul's game plan and puts in the necessary work to elevate her play.
Backing her up will be Briana Bocelli, who is making the transition from forward to goaltender in her second year with the team.
On defense, the team is returning three veterans, Meghan Campbell, Avery Parsons-Grayson, and Kealey Seguin. Filling in the big shoes of departing captain Emily Pecue will be Paul's daughter, also named Emilie, who will also wear the number ten.
The recent graduate of the Boarder program is a talented stay at home style of defender, and will definitely see a lot of minutes in her freshman season, says Paul. Kerrianne Little could also see some time on the back line as well.
The biggest difference as far as quality of play will occur on offense as a strong youth movement is currently under way.
Last year's scoring leader Corrina Cota will be joined by freshmen Whitney Bernier (Tom's daughter), and fellow Lake Region Student Taylor Morley.
"Whitney has been a prolific goal scorer throughout her entire minor hockey career, and Taylor has been a strong scorer and a well rounded player on the ice," said the coach.
Cota will also be expected to assume more of a leadership position with this young team in 2011-2012, but believes that role can also be spread around the squad.
"We are all going to work together, it will not be just me," said the sophomore, "We are going to have to work hard."
Joining the big three will be returning sophomore twins Jenna and Crystal Moss, who bring a lot of grit and a hard nosed edge to the Falcons offense. The twins willingness to sacrifice their bodies to block shots will be invaluable to the team.
Ashley Daigle, who continues to make strides in her level of play, could also be a key contributor as the season moves forward.
Paul plans to spread out the talented Cota, Bernier, and Morley, but the trio is likely to see time together on special teams.
"I am going to try to run three lines as much as possible, but will shorten the bench when needed."
The new coach expects there will be a learning curve as he adjusts to the varsity ranks, but he is excited and looks forward to the upcoming season.
The puck drops on the new season this Saturday at the Ice Haus in Jay at 6:00 when the team squares off against Harwood