In the wake of Saturday’s thrashing, it’s still full steam ahead for the Whitehorse Huskies.
The AAA senior men’s hockey team is not going to dwell on their lackluster results this season, the club’s first season in 16 years. Instead the eyes of the team are fixed on the task ahead, a five-game series
against the Powell River Regals April 1-5 in Whitehorse to determine which team goes to the Allan Cup.
“We’ve always said that April 1 to 5 was our goal; everything was exhibition up to then,” said Huskies head coach Randy Merkel. “The guys are going to play hard and give it all they’ve got.
“I really believe this team is good enough to give Powell River a good run – maybe even beat them.”
The Huskies closed out their regular season losing 6-3 Friday and 13-2 Saturday against the Fort St. John Flyers at Takhini Arena.
Back in net for the Huskies was two-time Allan Cup winner Cory McEachran, playing his first games since his team’s season opener, the Huskies’ only win of the season. After helping the Huskies win 4-2 against
the Regals on November 20, McEachran, 31, left the team because of family commitments and waning interest in playing.
“It felt good, I was relaxed out there and the pucks seemed to be hitting me,” said McEachran. “The rebounds were a little juicy. Obviously I would like a few of those goals back. I thought I felt good, shook out a few
of those cobwebs and I should be ready to go April 1.”
Although McEachran kept his team in the game Friday, both nights he was simply overwhelmed with shots from the dominating Flyers.
“Cory got two games in there, and yeah, a lot of pucks went by him, but the guys left him out to dry,” said Merkel. “We spent a lot of time in the penalty box.
“He made a lot of good saves. It was tough, but (the games) helped him a lot. He needed the shots and he took quite a few.”
Down 2-0 to start the second on Friday, Ryan Gleason put the Huskies on the board with a shot from the blue line, finding the top corner stickside, assisted by captain Derek Johnstone and Barry Blisner.
Closing the gap back to two goals later in the second, Huskies’ Graham Belak sent the puck through traffic to Kirk Gale for the 4-2 goal. New recruits Kristian Jefkins and Chris Newans, playing in their first game as Huskies, produced the final goal, with Newans getting the assist.
Saturday’s game played out quite differently, with the Huskies’ first goal making it 6-1 late in the second period.
“I think the big change was our puck movement and their turnovers cost them a few goals – you could tell that they haven’t played together a lot,” said Flyers head coach Adam Brash. “When they cough up the puck, we have players who just don’t miss on those opportunities. That’s the difference between winning the games and losing them.”
Breaking the shutout was Johnstone, pouncing on a loose puck, outpacing a Flyers defender and cutting through the crease to put in a backhand. Scoring for the Huskies to make it 9-2 was new recruit Lucas
Fransen, taking advantage of the Flyers goalie out of the crease and getting the wrap-around.
“We made so many little mistakes and this team was good enough that everything cost us,” said Merkel. “They capitalized on all our mistakes.
“It’s one of these reminders for all of us that conditioning and discipline are two really important factors. So far, every team we’ve played is in better shape and has out-disciplined us.
“That’s what we have to pay attention to when we play the Powell River Regals.”
With 12 trips to the penalty box on Saturday, including six in the first period, there were some blatant reminders of what the Huskies need to work on for next month’s series. If nothing else, the loss could light a fire in the belly of the Huskies team, said Merkel.
“Games like Saturday can have the tendency to work for you, and we’re hoping that’s what it’s going to do for us,” he said. “We’re going to want to come out with a vengeance and Saturday is a reminder that you have to come out and play 60 minutes of hockey every game and you have to stay out of the penalty box.”
“Obviously not playing together as a team all year long slows you down a bit with team chemistry,” said McEachran. “You could tell that Fort St. John have played 30 or so games together, the way they were moving the puck.
“I think this week was a bit of an eye-opener to some of the guys that we are going to have our best game every night to win (against the Regals).”
The five-game series against the Regals is also the first leg of the Savage Cup, BC’s AAA championship. The Cup will be awarded to which team makes it furthest in the Allan Cup, between the Flyers and the winning team of next month’s series.
“If you get hot goaltending – and Cory (McEachran) is a two-time Allan Cup champion – he will steal a series,” said Brash. “Goaltending wins championships.
“My advance to Whitehorse is to play physical, play tough like they do, and don’t turn over pucks.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org