"What about Margot?"
It's inevitably the first question Niagara's interim head coach Heather Reinke gets, especially now that practice has begun.
Reinke politely addresses the questions and steers her answer toward the present. It's a question that will probably follow the Niagara women's hockey team all season as head coach Margot Page continues her leave of absence to be a part of the coaching staff for the Canadian Olympic team.
Will Page come back? If she doesn't, who will take over then? Reinke?
These are questions with no answers for the moment. Page and Niagara amicably announced the leave of absence last year. The scenario comes down to this: If the Canadian team does well at the Turin Olympics in February, Page may well get other job offers. If those offers are attractive, she may leave Niagara. But nobody can guess the outcome until the spring, when the Olympics and the college hockey season have played themselves out.
Until then, Reinke remains focused on what's happening now. And right now, there's a hockey team to coach. The season opens Oct. 21.
"We're living in the present," Reinke said. "When we conduct business in the locker room nobody is going to say, 'Well last year . . . ' Nobody does that. It's 'OK, let's do this.' . . . (Talk about Page is) definitely on the outside and not in the locker room. We don't think about what could have been. I've worked so closely over the last few years with the players that they know my personality."
Reinke, a native of Madison, Wis., was a standout defenseman at New Hampshire, from which she graduated with a degree in psychology in 1997.
She's been an assistant coach at Niagara since 2000, honing the Purple Eagles' defensive unit along with holding the primary recruiting responsibilities. Defensive players are especially accustomed to her style. In fact, because Reinke has structured and worked with the defense so much, little will change about Niagara in its own zone.
The offensive end may be tweaked, particularly since leading scorer Ashley Riggs is with Page and the national team. But even a revised forechecking system won't be terribly noticeable.
Some things have changed, which will give the team a slightly different flavor this year.
"Margot and Heather have two different ways of doing things," senior captain Jessica Clermont said. "I think it's been really positive and the change has been good for us. For example, the way Margot did practice, you knew all the drills before you got on the ice. If there was a drill you didn't like, you'd usually dwell on it, be bummed when it was coming up. But with Heather, we don't know what drills we're doing. It's a surprise and I think it makes practice flow better. Not that Margot's way was bad or anything, it's just that sometimes a little change is refreshing."
College programs can't survive on a present-day focus alone. The recruiting machine needs to be constantly in motion, but Reinke does not see Niagara's murky future having an effect there.
"It's one of those things that if it was going to impact our recruiting, it would have done it last year as well because people knew Margot was leaving in July," Reinke said. "I think the school sells itself. . . . If we get people on campus, we usually get them, regardless of who the coaching staff is."