19 Teams in 19 Days – Whitby Wild

Another season is underway and as teams hit the ice in their quest for the 2011-2012 NRL Championship title, we’re taking a closer look at each team in the league. The new series is called 19 Teams in 19 Days and we would like to encourage you to join in the discussion on Twitter by following www.twitter.com/nrllnr or by sending us an email at NRLchatter@nationalringetteleague.ca

Whitby Wild

Last season finish:
Regular season – 10th place
Eastern Conference playoffs – lost 2-0 to Richmond Hill

Head coach: Ed Stepniak
Two questions with coach Stepniak:
What would it mean to you, as a coach, to win the NRL championship this season?
Winning the NRL championship this season would certainly be considered an upset. As a coach, the victory would be unbelievably gratifying but the credit would have to go to the players. Whitby Wild begins their 3rd season with a strong team as a result of a late season trade last year and the acquisition of key players in the 2011 draft. Unfortunately the team will be losing a key defensive player as a result of relocation to Western Canada. Two other key players are recovering from injuries and their status is unclear at this time.

What does your team have to do to win an NRL championship?
Our goal for this season is to qualify and win the playoffs and compete in the National Championships. Our team must remained committed to a strong work ethic at practice and bring their ‘A’ game and a ‘must win’ attitude to each and every league game of the season. Along with the ‘must win’ attitude and commitment to the team, each player needs to maintain the passion and fun of the game.

The NRL nugget to know about this team:
Remember when you were little and the older kids were always taller than you? Well, the Whitby Wild don’t know what you are talking about. The Wild are both the tallest and the youngest team in the NRL this year. With an average age of only 20.1 and with the tallest player in the league in the form of 6’3” Caitlin Hellingman, the Wild have both size and youth pushing them along this season.

The question to be answered:
Can this team take a step from being competitive to being a real threat? Last year was a good leap for the Wild as they became a real threat and nothing close to being a freebie. This year, they need to do more than threaten if they are going to climb the standings and get into the playoffs.

What happened in the off-season:
The Wild did not have a very active off-season which may suit a team that finished up last season strong. The Wild have the players (and have “upgraded” Lisa Bury from AP to a full roster spot) now and are looking to gel. Some stability may be part of that plan.

The (hidden) gem:
While technically not a new player, Jodi Hannen was added very late last season and gives the Wild a reliable scoring option as her 139 points in 110 career games suggest. The Wild paid a high price for her in a trade, but can feel good that they have acquired another piece of the puzzle.

Reason for optimism:
The Wild had a good second half last season and another year of experience under their belts. This very young team is getting better with age.

Reason for concern:
With that average age of only 20, the Wild are very young. Their average player was born during the Bill Clinton administration! Did you read that right? The CLINTON administration. Their youth will be a great asset this season, but it can also be a real problem and the team will have to deal with that double-edged sword.