Kelly Coulter knew very little about the Alberta Colleges Women’s Hockey League, or the RDC Queens for that matter, when he took over as head coach.
But it didn’t take him long to be impressed with the 25-player roster that includes 12 returnees, two former Queens and two others who have league experience.
He has four returnees to the blueline in fifth-year veterans Casey Nicholson, Nikki Connor and Megan Jones, fourth-year Rikki Leonard and Kailey Butz, who is in her second year.
“We do have a strong veteran presence on defence,” said Coulter. “We have the experience to groom the younger girls … we’re fortunate that way. They all have a good skill set and we will have one of the best skating D-cores in the league from what I’ve seen. We’re fortunate for sure.”
Coulter also has Cassidy Anderson, who played in 12-13 with the NAIT Ooks, on defence along with impressive rookies Breanne Neudorf, who played with the Prince Alberta Bears, Julia Wing from the Vancouver Island Hurricanes, Teagan Borbandy from the Rocky Mountain Raiders, and Jalin Adams from the Yellowhead Chiefs in Manitoba.
One of the major concerns heading into camp was in goal with Alex Frisk and former Red Deer Sutter Fund Chief Jen West the only netminders on hand. Fisk red shirted last season while West played in the Alberta Junior Female Hockey League with Lethbridge.
“I have no complaints about the goalies,” said Coulter. “We have been playing both of them and they both have shown they are more than capable of playing at this level. They do have a good D group in front of them, but they have also come up with a lot of big saves in the preseason. I know I’m excited to see where they finish in the league.”
Up front the Queens have Ashley Graf, Kaely McMurtry, Keinyn Nordell, Jayna Kitchen, Jena Holden and Suze Vanderlinde returning along with Jade Petrie, who led the team in scoring two years ago. As well Emily Swier (nee Lougheed), who also played two years ago returns. Petrie had eight goals and eight assists in the 20013-14 season and eight goals and nine helpers in 2012-13.
Swier was third in team scoring in 13-14 with seven goals and six assists and fourth in 2012-13 with six goals and six helpers in 16 games.
Julia Murrell, who played with the Grant MacEwan University Griffins in the 2012-13 season is also in camp.
The newcomers are Sarah Sevenson, who played with Banff Academy, Morgan Fraser from the Battlefords Sharks, Kirsten Brown from the Yellowhead Chiefs, and Madison Casavant of the Prince Albert Bears.
“From what I’ve seen with will have some goal scoring,” said Coulter. “A lot of goals will be scored from around the net and we have to develop those skills. We talk about having a nose for the net. We have girls who can shoot the puck it’s a matter of having the girls who will drive the net and get the rebounds.”
Coulter likes what he’s seen from his new players.
“They have a strong skill set,” he said. “They skate well and younger girls seem to shoot the puck very well because they have had more time to develop their skills. I’ve been very, very impressed with what I’ve seen so far.”
One of Coutler’s problems will be to find enough ice time for all 25 players.
“We definitely have a few extra bodies, but that’s a good problem to have. So far we’ve already had to deal with sickness and a few injuries, so everyone has had lots of playing time.”
The team has had some early success finishing with a 1-0-2 record in the NAIT tournament and splitting a series against SAIT last weekend – winning 4-1 and losing 3-0.
“The girls are all very coachable and have picked up things very quickly,” said Coutler. “We have had some success and hopefully it will continue. I told them that as long as we continue to improve game by game and correct our mistakes we’ll have a good season.”
What the Queens, who lost 3-1 in the final to three-time defending champion NAIT last season, do have is eight players in their fourth or fifth season. Something needed to have success in the league. It’s also important for leadership.
“That (leadership) showed from the beginning when we had fitness testing,” said Coulter. “The rookies could see how the veterans carried themselves and how prepared they were for the season. It helps with the culture you want to create. The rookies see how a fifth-year player prepares to play and it makes them better. It also gives the younger players an opportunity to see what it takes to be a student athlete and what it takes to committee to the sport and to academics. Just look at Megan Jones. She already has a nursing degree which is impressive in itself.”
The Queens open their regular season Oct. 15 at home against Grant MacEwan.