by Danny Rode
Bob Rutz is taking a new direction as he steps into his second season as head coach of the RDC Queens hockey team.
“Last year we had a lot of pressure from the outside, saying we had to win after just losing the previous year,” he explained. “ This year we’re not thinking about what happened last year, we’re focusing on the process and looking to get better every day. The past is not a big deal, our job is to continue to improve every day. We have six weeks (to prepare for the start of the regular season) and the players have that time to show they deserve to step into the lineup.”
The Queens have a veteran lineup with only eight rookies on the 25-player roster.
Two of the new faces are in goal with Summer Roberts of Regina joining veteran Moriah Andrews as starters and Alexander Frisk as a potential red shirt.
“I’m not worried about our goaltending at all,” said Rutz. “They’re both big and cover a lot of the net. Summer moves well and Moriah came back in great shape. We’ll split time between them and whatever happens happens and we’ll roll with it.”
Both goalies played Saturday as the Queens opened their exhibition season with a 3-1 win over the Warner Hockey Academy Warriors at the Arena. Veterans Jessica Anderson, Jayne Kitchen and Skye Fahlman, who connected into an empty net, scored for the Queens, who were outshot 34-22, thanks mainly to a string of penalties.
The Queens led 1-0 after two periods with the Warriors tying it early in the third period on the power play against Roberts. Kitchen scored the winner at 16:08 on the power play when her point shot hit the post, deflected off the goalie and in.
Rutz has three new faces to go with 11 veterans up front and five veterans on the blueline, including Nikki Connor, who played two years ago. Connor was an all-star calibre player and didn’t decide to return to school until late August.
“She gave me a call and asked if there was an opening and everyone I talked to, the former players and coaches, said she would be a great addition to the team,” said Rutz, who also has Casey Nicolson, Megan Jones, Rikki Leonard and Taylor Hall back on defence.
The newcomers are Kailey Butz of Lloydminster, Ashton Peterson of Grande Prairie and Keinyn Nordell of Battleford.
“I’m excited about the team and especially the defence,” said Rutz. “We have a solid group returning and the new players have stepped right in.”
The number of veterans makes Rutz’s job easier.
“They all provide good leadership,” he said. “They’ve only been together three or four days and the veteran players are already taking the new players under their wings and showing them the ropes in school and on the ice. The fact the players know what to expect from me makes my job easier. And they don’t have to have a letter to be leaders.”
The leader of the group is captain Rachael Hoppins, who has looked better than ever in camp.
“She continues to get better all the time . . . there’s a lot of things to like about her game,” added Rutz.
The other veterans up front are Jena Holden, Kaylea Renz, Ashley Graf, Cassidy Holt, Suze Vanderlinde, Micaela Smith and Hailey Smyl.
Newcomers are Kelly Shawara, who played with the Pacific Steelers in B.C. two years ago, Kaley McMurtry out of Fraser Valley and Brenna Thomson of Swift Current.
“All the new players come from good programs and they want to compete and win,” said Rutz, who has nine more exhibition games on tap. They travel to Saskatoon this weekend to face the U of S Huskies in a pair of games. They also will play Warner on the road, Mount Royal University on Sept. 18 at the Arena, Banff Hockey Academy in a home-and-home series and the Edge Hockey Academy of Calgary twice at the Arena.
“We needed as much competition, and good competition, as we could get prior to the opening of the season,” said Rutz, who has four assistant coaches including former player Laura Salmons. Wes Makofka returns with Colin Stebner coming in as goalie coach and former Red Deer Rebel Chris Neiszner also coming on board.