Making the jump from the Sudbury Novice "A" Lady Wolves last year to the Sudbury Atom "A" Lady Wolves this winter, head coach Ian Frantz sees no reason to abandon ship.
"We're going to be taking a lot of the good things that we did last year, spending a lot of time on their edgework and helping them develop the tempo of the game," said Frantz, following a recent team practice at Sudbury Arena.
"But now with the nine and ten year olds, you're looking at spending a little more time on team strategy and positioning. They're old enough to retain those kinds of instructions now, and by Christmas, start replicating some of the breakout patterns and specialty teams even,"
Bringing together a somewhat younger crew than usual - Frantz and company are carrying no less than seven first year atoms - the consumate coach is anxious to expand his base of knowledge regarding the area girls hockey talent.
"That's the exciting piece for me right now," he said. "I'm excited to actually coach some of these girls that I have coached against in the younger ranks, in houseleague and stuff. Our team is all about speed, again. I know we're a young team, but we're fast."
One of the girls that Frantz is working with for the very first time, Joanna Ajueze is hoping to showcase her inner defender to her new coach this fall. "I have played forward a couple of times, but I'm more comfortable on defence," suggested the ten year old grade 5 student at R.L. Beattie Public School.
"I have the spirit of a protector, and in hockey, that means protecting the goalie."
In fact, Ajueze is the first to acknowledge that there is often a very special relationship that exists between those players who man the blueline, and the very last line of defence behind them, those entrusted with stopping the pucks before they hit netting.
"When we're in our end, we'll talk to the goalies and the goalies will talk to us, saying where everyone is, where the puck is," explained Ajueze. "And then, when we're bored, sometimes, we'll just talk."
One of just two players who made the leap from the Atom "B" team in 2018-2019 (Atom 3) all the way to the top of her age bracket this year (Leah Salo was the other), Ajueze acknowledged that she was certainly not taking anything for granted, attempting to crack this roster.
"At the first tryout, I thought I was pretty sure I could make it to the second tryout," stated the talkative multi-sport athlete. "At the second tryout, I was like I don't know if I'm going to make it to the third tryout. Surprisingly, I made it to the third tryout, and then I thought to myself, I've got to do this."
And while it is still quite early in this latest campaign of hockey, Ajueze has already embraced some keys to success, both for herself, and the other girls who man the blue-line. "First of all, we have to do our best, no matter what," she said.
"Second of all, we should have gap control when we're skating down the ice backwards. Third, we should never play it up the middle."
The 2019-2020 edition of the Sudbury Atom "A" Lady Wolves features Hannah Adler, Joanna Ajueze, Joely Angus, Lauren Bouchard, Ryann Chevrier, Gabrielle Cholette, Isla Cirillo, Sadie Frantz, Sophie Gauld, Audrey McKinnon, Avery Minnini, Keanna Navarro, Carrington Parisé, Valerie Prévost, Leah Salo, Paige Taylor and Karyssa Vaillancourt.