Last season was classified as a rebuilding year for the RDC Queens hockey team.
Even then they reached the league final, behind a solid defence and goaltender Tracie Kikuchi, before losing 3-1 to the Grant MacEwan University Griffins.
The Queens biggest problem was scoring despite having three of the top fifth-year forwards in the league in Jade Petrie, Julia Murrell and Emily Lougheed.
All three are gone, leaving head coach Kelly Coulter with some questions as to where the offence will come this season.
“In the 2015-16 season we were strong offensively and our back end played a big role in that,” he said. “This year I see the same. We have several girls back there who are smart, can lead the rush, see the ice well and shoot.”
Mairead Bast, who was one of the premier rearguards to come out of Red Deer, transferred in from UBC and has all the skills to be a premier defenceman in the Alberta Colleges Women’s Hockey League.
Add sophomore Catherine Longchamps, who had five goals and three assists last season, third-year Kirsten Baumgardt and sophomores Sydnee Decorby, Victoria Johnston and Shelby Ballan, who is out with an injury. Coulter has two other transfers on the back end in former Red Deer Sutter Fund Chief Tyra Coutts, who was at NAIT, and Mariah Mckersie, who was at the University of Regina.
Ashley Sutherland, who played at the Edge Academy in Calgary, rounds out the defence.
“Our team philosophy has always been to build from the defensive zone out,” said Coulter. “We feel with players like Mairead, who can make that first pass as well as rush the puck, Catherine, who is coming off a great year, and Baumer we have the experience and strength to match up with any team in the league.”
Although they lost Kikuchi, Coulter has depth in goal with Nisa Bartlett, NAIT transfer Karlee Fetch and Miranda Cook from Manitoba.
“Nisa was one of the top goaltenders with the (Central (Alberta) Amazons while Karlee has a lot of experience and Miranda played with older players last season,” said Coulter. “All three will give us a chance to win.”
Fetch played three years at NAIT, posting a solid 1.35 goals-against-average and a .932 save percentage last season.
Up front the Queens have two fifth-year players in Kaely McMurtry and Keinyn Nordell among eight returnees. Others back are Kaitlan Linnell, Karissa Cullum, Jenessa Fournier, Camryn Wallan, Jordyn Burgar and Neisha Germann.
One of the more impressive players in camp is Czech Republic native Veronika Bucifalova, who played three years with the Czech U18 team, competing at two World championships.
She spent two years with the Ontario Hockey Academy and last season with a hockey academy in Switzerland.
“Veronika has the ability to get the puck away quickly and sees the ice well,” said Coulter. “As well a lot of the other girls came a long way last season and towards the end were showing signs of adjusting to the league. Now is the time for them to step up.
“The thing is this year we want even more net presence … drive the net and convert those chances around the net.”
Coulter is excited what he sees even though it’s still early.
“You could see they were a little tentative and there are some adjustments to the (Olympic) ice size, but that will come. It’s a matter of getting the chemistry and for us to put lines and defensive pairings together.”
There’s also excitement about the new Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre.
“It’s been a long wait, but happy to call home, home,” said Coulter. “It’s an amazing, world class facility, plus we get more practice time, to develop as a team.”
The Queens will host an Ice Breaker Tournament, Sept. 7-9.
They open their regular season Oct. 5 at NAIT, returning home against the Ooks the following day.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at email@example.com