It’s an end of an era, but just the type of era hockey fans want to end.
After being absent from Yukon rinks for 16 years, AAA hockey and the Whitehorse Huskies are back, playing their first games this weekend in town.
“This is a test,” said Huskies general manager Jim King. “Usually what happens with these teams is they start off as a kind of AA caliber team, they play games during the season, and then as the time gets closer to the official AAA carding time the teams start to pick up players that may have lost a series somewhere and are out of their playoffs.”
The games are not just a test of the Huskies’ ability, but a test of Whitehorse’s commitment to supporting the sport – to see if it’s financially feasible to maintain a AAA hockey team in the territory.
The opportunity of bringing in a team to Whitehorse, did not come cheap. To coax the BC team North of 60, the Huskies team is footing most of the traveling expenses for the visiting Powell River Regals, including transportation and accommodations.
“It’s a lot cheaper for them to stay down south and play,” said King. “So to get competition up here, we have to foot the bill.
“So that’s what this test-weekend is about, to see if people in town are interested, will show up and will put the $12 out to help offset the cost.
“We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of help from Air North – they’re always very generous and have been so with this team. Northern Vision Development (i.e. The High Country Inn) has really stepped up and have given us a tremendous rate on rooms.
“Without them, this thing would pretty much be impossible.”
The Huskies hockey team dissolved after 1992-93 season. Going out on top, the Huskies captured the Allan Cup, the Canadian senior AAA hockey championships, before disbanding.
Management decided to try AAA rather than AA because to get back to the Allan Cup, the Huskies would only have to win one five-game series against, as it so happens, the Regals. However, this weekend’s games are not part of the series.
“It’s a pretty tough tournament, but being there would be quite a thrill,” said King of the Allan Cup. “We’ve got some darn good players here and they should get an opportunity to at least try.”
The two games, which will take place Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m. at Takhini Arena, will also be a chance for local minor hockey teams to raise money to help fund their away trips, running a beer garden and a 50/50 draw on Saturday. The entry fee will be $12 and $6 for minor hockey players wearing their team’s jersey.
As luck would have it, the Regals are also in rebuilding mode, having missed last season. But with the Yukon being devoid of contact hockey for so many years, even coaches aren’t quite sure what to expect.
“We don’t really know what we’re up against,” said Huskies assistant coach Jay Glass. “We know they’re going to come up here with probably a pretty good roster. The difference is those guys have been playing hockey this year in a league down south – a AA league, but at least they’ve been playing full contact.
“We’re going to play a simple, focused game. We’re going to try to not be outworked and play as smart as we can.”
Although the final Huskies roster will not be released until Wednesday evening after the team’s final practice before the series, Glass did tell the News that goalies Brian Powers and Corey McEachran will each get to start a game. McEachran, who like the rest of the team is a local player, has had an illustrious relationship with the Allan Cup, named to the All-Star team in 2005 and tournament MVP in 2007 while on the Lloydminster Border Kings.
“Fans that come out to the game will never be disappointed with the goaltending,” said King.
“There are a lot of good hockey players that have come out of Whitehorse and are playing all over the place in B Division, junior A,” he added. “And for them to have something like this to come home to, to play in – if the team carries on – is tremendous. Right now there’s nothing really but the rec league to come back to.”
Next April’s Allan Cup will be hosted by Fort Saint John, BC, but held in Dawson Creek. Unfortunately for the Huskies, skill will only get the team so far, if they don’t have Whitehorse’s support to back the team up.
“This weekend will be a telling weekend,” said King. “If there’s good attendance, there can be quite a few more games. The Fort Saint John team wants a home-and-home series and other teams have expressed quite an interest in coming north – teams from Alberta and southern BC.”
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