Maybe it was opening game jitters, but the Whitehorse Huskies didn’t come out playing like the Coy Cup champion team they hope to become.
Then the second period started.
The Huskies scored four second-period goals en route to a 6-3 win over the North Island Capitals to begin their Coy Cup journey at Takhini Arena on March 28.
“I think that’s actually a good start to the tournament for us,” said Huskies head coach Michael Tuton. “It brought us back into the room after 20 minutes and we refocused, regrouped and went out and had a much better second period. We took over from there.
“In the third, we started with that five-on-three, we knew we had to bury (North Island) there and we did.”
The Huskies’ inauspicious start was underscored by the loss of forward Kevin Petovello — one of the team’s most prolific scorers — tossed from the game on a boarding call, leaving the Huskies down a man for five minutes.
The Capitals, from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, capitalized on a four-on-three advantage that soon followed on a goal from Karl Hagg. With three minutes left in Petovello’s penalty, the Huskies survived a bustling onslaught of shots from the Capitals without allowing a goal.
It was a different story in the second. Five minutes in Huskies forward Drew Pettitt logged his team’s first goal of the tournament on a scramble in front, assisted by Ted Stephens and Simon Nugent.
Whitehorse moved ahead with two more in the next three minutes. Stephens sniped a wrister from the wing, assisted by Rob Stuckey and Rob Warner. Then, forward Brett Roulston made it 3-1 with a point-blank goal from the side of the net, assisted by Derek Klassen and Charles Dagostin.
“We were looking for one good shift to get things turned around and I think Drew Pettitt’s goal in the second period really brought some life back into the bench, and from there we started to gain momentum,” said Tuton.
Capitals forward Shelby Cockell pulled his team within one late in the period. The Huskies answered back a minute later with a goal from forward Adam Henderson. Defenceman Alex Dzielski and returning captain Evan Campbell picked up assists.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing in the second. Huskies starting goalie Jon Olthuis left the game with a knee injury sustained in a collision. The team could not say whether he’ll be fit for Wednesday’s game.
“What a tough position for J.J. (Gainesforth) to come in with no notice, no warmup, and come in a put in the performance that he did,” said Tuton of his backup tender. “That kind of stuff lifts the bench up and gets the boys ready to go. These guys play for each other and that was a perfect example of it.”
The Huskies, wearing Team Yukon jerseys to accommodate the Capitals, who failed to bring their white jerseys, made good on a two-man advantage to start the third when forward Derek Klassen knocked in a bouncing puck in the Capitals’ crease. Brett Roulston and assistant captain Jared Tuton got the assists.
The Capitals kept it interesting with a mid-period goal from Tyren Dustin before Henderson drove the final nail with an empty-netter in the dying seconds.
Kelowna tops Terrace
Finishing as the runner-ups at the last three Coy Cups, the Terrace River Kings are no doubt a hungry team. But they weren’t hungry enough to overcome the Kelowna Sparta in the first game of the Cup, also on Tuesday.
The Sparta, playing in their first Coy, squeaked out a 3-2 win over the River Kings in the afternoon game. They did it with a short bench, too.
“We’re a little short-staffed today, so we only had two lines. We’re going to have the other half of our team show up on Thursday for the Huskies game,” said Sparta captain Sasha Golin. “We think they’re our No. 1 competition. They’re a bunch of good guys over there, we enjoy playing them, and we’ll hopefully win.”
The Huskies will face the River Kings Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. after the Sparta and Capitals hit the ice at 4 p.m. The hometown favourites will then finish the round robin against Kelowna on Thursday evening after Terrace and North Island square off.
From there the bottom team is eliminated, the middle two play a semifinal Friday, and the top team gets a bye to Saturday’s final.
There’s plenty of hockey to come and it’s still too early to make any firm predictions, just ask Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis, who was in attendance on Tuesday.
“I’m feeling really proud. The Whitehorse Huskies have done a fantastic job,” he said. “This is the 95th Coy Cup and the first time it’s in our capital city. So I’m not going to make any predictions, but I’m certain we’re going to win.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org