It’s an historic move that rarely occurs in Canada’s biggest markets, let alone a small town in northern Ontario.
For what is believed to be the first time ever, a rep hockey team in the Sault will be led by an all-female coaching staff.
The Soo Jr. Greyhound Girls U15 Tier 1 hockey team will enter the 2022-23 season with five women leading the charge behind the bench, marking a monumental shift for the women’s game in the Sault.
Head coach Jamie Orlando, along with three assistant coaches Lue Mahaffey, Morgan Tersigni, and Mikayla Ferlaino, as well as trainer Deanna Shaw will form the bench staff.
While it’s unconfirmed if they’re the first slate of women to sweep the bench duties locally, it’s safe to say the glass ceiling is officially broken.
“For us growing up, you heard about players like Wickenheiser, but there was so little representation for women of what you could aspire to work towards,” says assistant coach Mahaffey. “For girls to see women breaking through in this kind of way, it sends a message that there’s potential for them to do incredible things.”
Mahaffey has been living in Thessalon for eight years and has a background of working with Indigenous communities doing leadership development and team building.
She began volunteering for Thessalon Minor Hockey in 2019 where she met Orlando, a former AA Sault Wildcat and current owner of the Main Street Pharmacy in Thessalon.
Orlando also had an existing connection with dryland trainer Tersigni, and the trio decided to sign up to be assistant coaches with Carl Rumiel last year, who was the head coach of the girls U15 team at the time.
“Carl basically wanted us to be able to take over the team the next year, so he did head coaching for a year so we could transition into it,” Mahaffey says. “His wife Monica Tessier was the trainer, and they were both wonderful, and did a great job helping get us oriented with the team and the families involved.”
Mahaffey explains that she and the other two assistants were able to bring different backgrounds to the team last year, which in-turn rounded out the squad’s overall experience.
“Orlando’s got a crazy analytical mind for the game – she breaks down everything,” she says. “She sees the game in a way that very few can.”
Tersigni, a personal trainer and health nutritionist, was also the dryland coach for the team last year. Mahaffey says those skills brought a lot to the table in terms of establishing a winning culture.
“The girls had dryland sessions of training where Tersigni was able to create a system of exercise and health and nutrition for them that was helping them get stronger,” she says. “We found her being at games and seeing where girls were weak in certain areas, and she could address those issues off-ice.”
At the conclusion of last season which saw them crowned as the U15 BB champions, Rumiel and Tessier passed their duties over to the female assistant trio who now had one full coaching season under their belt.
The transition, however, meant two spots were open.
Mikayla Ferlaino jumped aboard as the third assistant coach, bringing a wealth of experience herself as she played on the Wildcats in the Sault, and even competed for Laurentian University.
Deanna Shaw also played for the Wildcats and will assume training duties behind the bench.
Of the four current coaches, none of them have kids on the team, which adds to the rarity of the situation.
“Often times, you can’t get someone who isn’t a parent to coach,” she says. “The four of us are volunteering that time and wanting to do this because we’re passionate about women’s hockey and want to see the game grow.”
Last week, SooToday brought the story of an inspiring young female hockey player named Haylee Lecuyer who has her eyes set on making the Winter Olympics.
Part of that piece looked at the lack of opportunities for girls and women in hockey, especially in smaller towns, which Mahaffey notes is not just on the ice, but behind the bench as well.
“Sometimes in smaller communities, you just get someone to fill a role because they need a role filled,” Mahaffey says. “It might be someone with zero experience doing it.”
Since four of these women have played competitive-level hockey, Mahaffey notes it’s clear that’s not the case here.
Mahaffey never had a female hockey coach growing up, and she says having that sort of representation in leadership is a true gamechanger, and it already showed last season.
“Girls can look up to us in a way that’s different in how they’d look up to a male coach,” she says. “We felt really encouraged with last year’s season. The parents seemed very appreciative and very excited with the progress they saw with the girls.”
Now more than ever, Mahaffey encourages women to get involved in hockey to help continue growing the sport for girls in our community and other cities across the country.
“For girls to see that even if they don’t play for Team Canada or division one hockey, they can one day take on a role where they’re giving back to the game,” she says. “Our hope is to show that there’s very capable women who can step up and do it.”
The all-female coaching staff are excited to get to work when practices for the upcoming season start up again in September.