Whitehorse hockey fans will be dropping their gloves this month – not to fight, but to applaud all the great hockey taking place here in January.
Takhini Arena will be the scene of two hockey series, with the revived AAA Whitehorse Huskies taking on the Paradise Hill Hawks, out of the North Saskatchewan River Hockey League, this weekend in a two-game stint.
The following series will feature BC Junior B teams Creston Valley Thundercats against the Fernie Ghostriders on January 19 and 20.
The Huskies team was reassembled this season after being defunct for 16 years, since winning the Allan Cup (Hockey Canada’s AAA championship) in 1993. The team played their first games after the long hiatus in November against the Powell River Regals, splitting the two-game series
“Another thing that comes out of this is we increase our contacts,” said Huskies head coach Randy Merkel. “This is one team that will go back to their league, talk to other teams and say, ‘We went to Whitehorse and had a good time, it’s a good place to play.’ Once we get a little more known in AAA hockey leagues, then it will be a little easier to get teams up here.”
The Huskies have done well for themselves in preparing competition for this season. The team has already arranged for another home-series with the Regals on February 4 and 5. The following month, the Huskies will be playing home and away in back-to-back weekends with the Fort Saint John Flyers, the host of this year’s the Allan Cup being held April 19-24.
Currently the Huskies are applying to Hockey Canada to finalize a five-game series later in the season against the Regals, the winner of which will advance to the Allan Cup.
“Powell River has accepted, but it’s whether Hockey Canada is going to accept it or not,” said Merkel. “We’re trying to get it here for March 30 through April 4.
“For here on in, it’s really important for our team to get as many games and as much ice time as possible. We have to get in shape for this, increase our conditioning and lift our level of game.”
Currently, the Hawks sit in third out of 10 teams in the North Saskatchewan league.
“They should be good competition,” said Merkel. “Their numbers won’t be as many as the Powell River team brought.”
Giving the team a boost since November’s games against the Regals, the Huskies have now signed six Outside players to the squad, including three forwards and three defencemen.
This weekend’s games will be the final step in deciding the 25-player roster to be submitted to Hockey Canada by Sunday at midnight to remain eligible for the Allan Cup.
Friday’s action starts at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday’s at 6:15 p.m. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at Sports North, Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters or at the door. Kids wearing their minor hockey jerseys will get half off the ticket price.
The move to bring two BC Junior B teams to Whitehorse originated from a visit by “Canada’s coach” Pat Quinn, who is currently the head coach for the Edmonton Oilers, back in March.
The Yukon Amateur Hockey Association approached Quinn for his thoughts on bringing high-level teams up to Whitehorse for a camp or a series, such as how Yellowknife hosted the Oilers for their rookie camp in 2007.
“Mr. Quinn told us not to waste our time” with NHL teams, said Walter Brennan, president of the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association. “He said that for a number of reasons, for one it’s costly. The other thing is NHL coaches’ jobs are at risk and it’s pure business.
“Whoever comes up is not going to have a chance to look at the Yukon, it’s pure business. They’re not going to come up to fish or for tourism.”
Although both teams are from outside the territory, there is a local aspect to the games. The Thundercats are not only coached by a former Whitehorse resident, Joe Martin, the team has four players from the town: Joe Densmore, Robbie Stuckey, Kane Dawe and Lawrence Brennan.
Martin, who played a major role in getting the teams to play in Whitehorse, coached Yukon’s Canada Winter Games hockey team in 2007 and continues to work with the Summit Hockey Camps in Whitehorse during the summer.
“We are trying to promote this also as an aspect of where Whitehorse kids can go because there’s a connection to the (Kootenay International Junior Hockey League),” said Brennan. “We’re hoping that the kids from Whitehorse (on the Thundercats) will be role models for kids coming through the Whitehorse minor hockey program.”
Tickets for the games, which are not exhibition and are part of the teams’ regular season, are $12 and any proceeds above the cost of bringing in the teams will be injected into Whitehorse’s hockey community. Organizers will be collecting items for the food bank at the door.
Fernie is currently ranked first in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Eddie Mountain division, followed by the Thundercats who are third.
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