Even if you ignore the fact they won both nights, the Nuway Crushing Whitehorse Huskies had a darn good weekend.
The senior men’s AA team showed big improvements in their defensive play - an area the team has been lacking - allowing only one goal on Saturday.
And then there was the fan support. Over 550 spectators attended Friday and over 700 Saturday as the Huskies hosted the Port Hardy North Island Capitals from Vancouver Island at Takhini Arena.
“The fans were just amazing!” said Huskies defenceman Jared Tuton. “When I’m skating around and I see that, it just makes me so happy. We struggled to get fans out at the end of last year and it’s getting better as we go now. It’s a good sign.”
“It’s unbelievable to see that support,” said Huskies captain Evan Campbell, who was approached for an autograph during this interview. “There’s a lot of talk going around town. Personally, I’ve run into people on the street I don’t even know say, ‘Good job out there,’ and that kind of thing. It’s a good feeling and it’s nice to have fans behind us and the city behind us.”
The Huskies improved to a 3-1 season record with the two-game series. They showed their scoring prowess in a 9-6 win Friday and their growing defensive capabilities in a 5-1 win Saturday.
“(Saturday’s game) was maybe a little bit slower, but that was because the guys were playing a little more defensively,” said Campbell. “We wanted to take care of our end first, play from our goalie out, which was a bit different from (Friday) night. We were scrambling around a bit in our own zone, so we wanted to clean that up. We scored nine, but we let in six, so we wanted to get that number down.”
It has, to say the least, been a while since the Huskies allowed just one goal in a game. They didn’t do it in their first series of the season. They didn’t do it last season after the team was brought back in its current AA incarnation after five years of dormancy. They didn’t do it six years ago as a AAA team after 16 years of dormancy.
Even when the Huskies won the Allan Cup - Canada’s AAA men’s championship - in 1993 did the team have a game with less than two goals against.
Whitehorse’s Randy Merkel and Jay Glass, who played on the Huskies in the early ‘90s, don’t recall winning with a shutout or with just one goal against.
“I don’t remember if we ever had a shutout. I don’t think so,” said Merkel. “I don’t think we had a shutout or a one-goal game.”
“I can’t recall shutting anybody out,” said Glass. “There could have been a one-goal, a 5-1 or 4-1 win at some point. I wouldn’t remember it because it wouldn’t be that remarkable.”
It must be admitted, Saturday’s goal against was a little fluky. Capital’s Erik Kennelly scored late in the third on a shot deflected up and over Huskies goalie Brad Gustafson.
“He played great and he said it himself: the team played great in front of him,” said Huskies head coach Michael Tuton.
“That’s a direct reflection of the coaching staff that we brought on this year,” he added. “Coach (Jay) Massie has been working tirelessly with D-men and he and (Barry) Blisner have been such a big part of the team this year. It’s definitely something we’re looking at, an area of improvement, and it doesn’t just come from our blue-liners, it comes from a team defence.
“I don’t think we’ve played to our full team potential yet, but we’re definitely making strides and going in the right direction.”
In Saturday’s game forward Ted Stephens led the way with a goal and two assists while Burt Stephens had a goal and an assist - the brothers assisted each other’s goal. Derek Kalssen, Adam Henderson and Joe Densmore also scored.
Friday’s game was closer than the score indicates, with the Huskies scoring three in the final seven minutes to make it 9-5 before the Capitals added a final one.
Henderson had two goals and two assists; Kane Dawe two goals and an assist; Rob Stuckey, Jared Tuton and Klassen, who had the game winner, each had a goal and assists. Chris Gleason and Rob Warner also scored. Goalie J.J. Gainsforth was in net for the win.
Campbell, who was named captain at the start of the season, racked up four assists in Friday’s game but is still searching for his first goal of the season.
“I don’t think about it. The way I see it, I have the ‘C’ for a reason, my play before, so I don’t try to change anything at all,” said Campbell. “I don’t feel pressure to score. If it goes in, great, if not, I’m just as happy to get an assist. And even happier when we win.”
The Huskies, who split a two-game series against Alberta’s Whitecourt Wild in December, will next host the Powell River Regals Jan. 22 and 23. With that series the Huskies will reach the magic number of six games recognized by B.C. Hockey and will therefore qualify for the Coy Cup - British Columbia’s AA championship trophy.
The Port Hardy Capitals have gone 1-4 against the Regals so far this season. Capitals captain John Murgatroyd, who played with the Regals the last 10 years before this season, shared some thoughts on the upcoming Huskies-Regals series.
“Realistically, in this kind of hockey, it’s all about what kind of lineup they can bring,” said Murgatroyd. “If they can bring their A lineup - all the guys can get time off work and make the trip - then they’ll be pretty good. If they can’t and they have to bring the support cast, you guys will beat them.
“From what I can see, you guys are a pretty solid squad. I played in the Coy Cup last year and with the exception of Fort. St John, who was at the head of the class, you can hold your own against anybody.”
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