Just over six months ago the St. Albert U19 AA Mission we're crowned national ringette champions, but the time for basking in the glory has passed as the team's new season gets underway.
Out of the 18 full-time players on last year's championship roster, just 10 have returned to the team this season.
With the significant roster turnover comes a bit of an identity change for the team, new head coach Jennifer Krochak told The Gazette.
"It’s definitely different but the same ‘work hard and compete’ inside their drive is similar,” said Krochak, who was an assistant coach last season. "For me, every season and every team is a different experience."
"The team has high aspirations, especially coming off of last year."
When asked if the team is already thinking about making a run at Nationals again this year, Krochak said it's definitely on the player's minds.
"Everybody who was a part of last year got a taste of how awesome that was and is definitely aspiring to do the same," she said. "We also understand that we were not a favourite last year, and the whole division was incredibly tight, so you can’t mail anything in."
"Our team had some dips last year that we had to work through and grind out so I don’t think anybody is taking it for granted that it’s going to be easy.”
The Mission's new season got off on a strong foot, as they crushed the Sherwood Park Power 8-2 on Oct. 15. Returning Mission forward Brielle Lajoie exploded offensively as she single-handedly outscored the Power by netting three goals herself. Lajoie also added an assist.
The Mission's offense also featured two goals from Kenzie McEachern, and three assists from Kirsten Krochak.
Nyah Bodnarchuk, who will be representing Team U.S.A at the World Ringette Championships later this month, had a goal and an assist.
The team's high-flying offence was stymied in their second regular season game however, as the Mission fell 6-3 to the Calgary Rise on Oct. 22.
The Mission found themselves down early against the Rise as back-to-back Mission penalties allowed the Rise to capitalize on a five-on-three powerplay to make the score 2-0 after the first quarter.
In the second, the Mission found themselves killing more penalties but McEachern managed to score shorthanded to bring her team within one. Less than three minutes later Avery Kew scored for the Mission to tie the game at two heading into the third.
The Rise came out strong in the third and after nearly five minutes of non-stop pressure they scored to go back on top 3-2.
The Mission weren't down for long though as Sydney Fevin tied the game up just a few minutes later.
Another St. Albert penalty would prove to be the difference maker as the Rise scored just three seconds into a powerplay to re-take the lead heading into the final quarter of play.
More penalty trouble lead to the Rise scoring another powerplay goal in the fourth, which came off a missile of a shot by Calgary's Ashley Anderson that snuck just under the crossbar. The game's final score was 6-3.
"As the game went on we were definitely getting better," Krochak said. "We have lots to refine but it was a good competitive battle and I can tell that we’re going to be right in the mix again this year. Every game is a battle."
For Bodnarchuk, who was a member of last year's championship-winning squad, the beginning of the year is the time to iron-out any kinks the team may have.
"We have the same talent, we have that same drive and motivation to win and all we need is that time to figure out how we all play together as a team because that’s what you struggle with at the start of the year," she said. "You have all these individual players and then once you get to the end of the year, that’s when you have your team-play, and that’s when we excelled at Nationals last year.”
“Every game we’re just looking better as a team and it’s just getting better.”
The Mission's next game will have them facing off against the Edmonton Elite on Sunday, Oct. 30. The game will take place at Go Auto Arena in St. Albert and is scheduled for a 5:15 p.m. start.