If the Kelowna Sparta make it back to Whitehorse for the Coy Cup at the end of next month, they won’t be swimming in confidence when it’s time to face the home team.
The Whitehorse Huskies downed the Sparta in back-to-back games, Feb. 17 and 18 at Takhini Arena, and are feeling self-assured.
“I’m real excited to get these guys to the Coy. We’ve been building this program for three seasons now and we’ve come up short the last few times, gone back to the drawing board to figure out what we need, fill in the holes and the gaps, and I’m feeling really confident about this group,” said Huskies head coach Michael Tuton.
“These guys are extremely focused and we’ve got one thing in mind and that’s to go all the way.”
The Huskies swept the series against Sparta 5-3 Friday and 4-2 Saturday, both with empty-netters in the dying seconds.
With the two wins the Huskies are finishing their regular season with a 7-1 record — their one loss coming against the Sparta in a two-game December series.
The Sparta, who are also an independent team not playing in a league, are 6-3 on the season with their three losses coming from the Huskies.
The Kelowna team, which was formed last season, will play the South Island Knights from Vancouver Island in two weeks. The winner of that series will qualify for the Coy Cup — the B.C. AA men’s championship — at the end of March.
“We’re hoping for a win and hopefully we’ll get a rematch (against the Huskies),” said Sparta captain Sasha Golin.
“We haven’t played them (the Knights) yet but we’re excited to face them because I’m pretty sure they’ve been in the league a little while and it’ll be a good match.”
The Huskies had a couple of new players and a couple of returners this past weekend.
Friday’s game was the first for Whitehorse native Brett Roulston. The forward, who had an assist on Saturday, is an alumni of the WHL and BCHL who played for the University of Lethbridge last season.
Also donning a Huskies jersey for the first time was defenceman Alex Dzielski from Kelowna. Dzielski, an ex-pro who had two assists Friday, played in the OHL and ECHL, and was with the University of Calgary the last four seasons.
“He’s a big, strong defenceman who can move the puck, get it up in a hurry,” said Tuton.
Huskies defenceman Jared Tuton was back from injury and former assistant captain Clayton Thomas, who retired last season, made a surprise return to the lineup.
There was also a new addition off the ice. The concession stand at Takhini Arena now offers the Petovello Burger, named after Huskies forward Kevin Petovello.
“It’s kind of embarrassing, but at the same time it’s a lot of fun,” said Petovello. “The guys in the room give me a hard time about it. Typically in my competitive days I was a healthy eater, so the boys are all over me for chumming up a burger from the concession.”
Petovello works for the city at Takhini Arena and one day ordered a chicken burger with Cajon mayonnaise instead of regular mayo, and voila, the Petovello Burger was born.
“I told him (the concession manager) how good it was and ended up getting another one or two in the following weeks and he just ran with it,” said Petovello, who moved to Whitehorse a year and a half ago. “To be here a short amount of time and have a burger named after you in the home rink is pretty neat. I don’t have that in my home town.”
In honour of Petovello scoring a hat trick Friday the concession made a special offer on Saturday: if Petovello scores a goal, his namesake sandwich is half price for 10 minutes.
It didn’t take long for that to happen. He scored the first goal of the game in the opening period.
Though the Huskies took the momentum out of the series, the Sparta started with it, taking a 2-0 lead early on in Friday’s game. Goals from Burt Stephens and Petovello tied it by the end of the first. Forward Rob Stuckey gave the Huskies the lead in the second before Petovello notched two more in the third.
“The first 10 minutes of the series you’re feeling each other out and getting a little sloppy, but they came out skating right from the start this weekend and got up early,” said Petovello. “You look at the two games, both two-goal games — one-goal games really because of the empty-netters — they’re close games. We’re evenly matched across the board and they make us work hard all game and that’s what we’re expecting in the Coy Cup.”
Huskies captain Derek Klassen and forward Andrew Pettitt also scored Saturday. Stephens got the game winner. Brother Ted Stephens had two assists.
Huskies goalie Jon Olthuis was in net both games, posting his fifth and sixth wins. Olthuis, who is another ex-pro on the roster, lives in Canmore, Alta. and travels in for the series.
“We’re getting some good habits, getting ready for the Coy Cup,” said Olthuis. “That was our last test and they gave us all we could handle, but we also proved we’ve got some finish in the offensive zone. And the boys did a great job at keeping the pucks to the outside, especially in the penalty kill. Kelowna threw a lot of pucks my way but none of them got through, which I guess is a good sign.”
The Huskies will compete against three B.C. teams, that are yet to be determined, at the Coy Cup March 28-April 1.
Former Huskies captain Evan Campbell, who went on the disabled list following shoulder surgery at the start of the season, hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a return in time for the Cup.
“I guess it’s a possibility,” he said.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com