One year after helping Milton Merchants capture the Provincial Junior A Hockey League championship, Rick Osborne may be facing this toughest test as a coach.
Osborne is returning to the back of the Mississauga Chiesf bench this season after a one-year hiatus from the Ontario Women's Hockey Association Senior AAA team.
And while he was tested time and again last season as a co-coach with the Merchants and in the past with the Chiefs, this may be his greatest challenge.
The Chiefs of the past always included proven talent which culminated in a provincial winner a few short years ago.
This time around, Chiefs are icing a team void of any Team Canada players.
"There's no shortage of challenges," reflected Osborne as he prepares for their opening game this Saturday.
"We're definitely no better than third seed going in. Our MVP (Margot Page) and top scorer (Jayna Hefford) [from the 1996-97 season] are gone." Although there may be less expected of the Chiefs, Osborne says there's no less pressure.
"I'd say it's more difficult -- more challenging. The (first-year) Brampton franchise has inherited all Team Canada players. They have enough pure talent that they can go out and win playing pond hockey most nights.
"We'll have to make that up with hard work and a little more balance.
While Osborne may have utilized two or three forward lines in the past, he expects to go with four lines this campaign, expecting them to expend all their energy with quick line changes.
The team's strength is between the posts in returning netminder Brenda Deneault and former Toronto Aero puckstopper Jen Dewar.
"They're both No. 1 goalies. They're IA and 1B. The league is so tough this year. It would be nice to think they would split the work 50/50, but we will have to have every competitive advantage we think of," intimating he will go with the hot hand.
The team will ice 11 returnees including Deneault, as well as Helen Knowles, Amanda Smith, Carol Cooper, Marni Barrow, Jennifer Goulet, Jenny Pettersen, Karen Pepper, Sharon Williamson, Sarah Applegarth and Andria Hunter.
Stephanie Campbell, Natalie Rivard, and Liz Duval are returning to the fold after taking last season off. Campbell played solely for U of T, Duval played in Switzerland and Rivard tried getting her game back working with a personal trainer. Rivard was a member of Team Canada in 1992, but was cut the last time around.
Closing out the lineup are Brit Millar, Heather Richardson, Shannon Grimbly, Sue Ann Van Damme and Annie Fahlenbock.
Richardson, who was with U of T and the Aeros last season, as well as Van Damme, who was with U of T, have been invited to the Team Canada camp next month.
Osborne expects Richardson to bring speed to the table, while Van Damme is described as a power forward.
Millar, 17, played in Brampton last season. Grimbly is "a highly skilled tough player, who is rough around the edges." She played for the Junior Aeros. Fahlenbock is another Junior Aero, "Who has been a pleasant surprise and has been a standout two-way player" Together they will fight for top honors in the West Division consisting of powers Brampton Thunder and Beatrice Aeros. Also in the division is Scarborough Sting.
The East will be comprised of Jofa Titan, Wingstar Bonaventure and Team Le Mistral of Quebec as well as Ottawa NCCP Raiders.
Chiefs' host Raiders Saturday at Chic Murray Arena beginning at 7 p.m.
The team's official home opener is Tuesday, 8 p.m. at Iceland against the Scarborough Sting.
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