Puck drops for girls high school championships March 18
But, despite the fact the 2014 Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations A/AA and AAA/AAAA girls hockey championships are being held in March 18-21, this may not be one of those years.
Four SDSSAA reps will carry the city's hopes for a championship, though the veteran-laden St. Charles College Cardinals are the obvious bet for Northern Ontario to retain a provincial banner.
With Head Coach Jason Michelutti guiding a solid core of talent to the provincial tournament for the past four years, the timing is in place to improve on a top eight AAA/AAAA finish from 2013, even more so given the school now qualifies at the A/AA level.
"They're growing every year, you can see the improvement in their game," said Michelutti. "They're getting stronger, they're getting quicker, their shots are getting better.
"We're finally at a place where most of them are Grade 11 and 12 — they look good."
In fact, the Cardinals feature no glaring weaknesses — something not unexpected for two-time defending city champions.
The quartet of Summer Butterfly, Sarah Mulvenna, Tayler Murphy and Brittany Reinhardt all hit double digits in goals this year. A defence corps led by Keara Cronin, Renée Auger and Kasandra Lauzon provides valuable support to the goaltending tandem of Alexi Kennedy and Cheyenne Saucier.
Though the likes of Appleby College (Oakville) and the St. Theresa Titans (Belleville) can more than hold their own against the larger AAA/AAAA schools, Michelutti and company are anxious to test themselves against a grouping that includes schools with student populations of 950 or fewer.
"I don't know that it will give us an edge, but it should create an equal playing field with a lot of the schools," Michelutti said. "We will need to play well without the puck, know where to be in the defensive and offensive zone, and use our speed. Those things will be key."
While the Collège Notre-Dame Alouettes are the most historically decorated local squad competing at OFSAA, coaches J.C. Davis and Denis Piquette bring a very young crew, lacking the traditional swagger of previous years.
Still, CND can boast a nice balance across its lineup. Siblings Renée and Josée Scott, Ashley McKerrol, Kailey Lapensée, Courtney Sauvé, Tiffany Ross and Kaylie Venedam benefit from years of experience with the competitive Lady Wolves program.
Goaltending will be key for Notre-Dame, with Danika Roy needing to be at her best if CND is going to find its way into their normal top eight perch.
Although the surprise NOSSA banner for École secondaire MacDonald-Cartier created a great deal of excitement, the reality of AAA/AAAA competition for a school that fits into the A classification (fewer than 600 students) is a given.
Still, the goaltending tandem of Danika Lefrancois and Andrea Gagnon, who were outstanding at NOSSA, combined with a nucleous that features Stephanie Legault, Kennedy Cresswell, Emilie Gatien and Josée Wahamaa should allow the Panthères to remain competitive in most outings.
The same cannot be said for the Marymount Regals, a group that has no trouble acknowledging that a "just happy to be here" motto is quite appropriate for the local entry.
At the other end of the spectrum, teams to watch in the AAA/AAAA field include defending champions St. Aloysius Gonzaga from Mississauga, Holy Cross Crusaders from Kingston, the Bill Crothers Colts from Unionville (gold medal winners in 2012), as well as the Pickering High School Trojans.
Competition begins on March 18 and through March 21, though the event highlight for many of the young ladies, will be the OFSAA banquet.
Sudbury gold medallist Rebecca Johnston will be on hand as guest speaker at the event, a coup for local organizers that is sure to make the 2014 Championships a memorable one for all involved.