Huskies lose owner but keep sticks on the ice

When the Whitehorse Huskies AAA hockey team takes to the ice next weekend against the Powell River Hawks, there will be additions to the club.

When the Whitehorse Huskies AAA hockey team takes to the ice next weekend against the Powell River Hawks, there will be additions to the club. The Huskies will have five new Outside players (bringing the total to eight) on the roster and they will finally be donning their new Huskies jerseys, no longer having to borrow from other local teams.

However, while the team is no doubt moving forward, it recently lost what some might consider an intricate part of the club: an owner.

After the Huskies’ winless two-game series against the Paradise Hill Hawks at the start of the year, owner and forward Clayton Thomas decided to leave the team and surrender ownership due to other commitments.

“The team looks to me to lead them and I just can’t do it,” said Thomas. “It’s my fault for not planning, but you have to take chances and I’m glad I did. I got the team started.

“I lost about $15,000 and I spent about two hours a day on the phone trying to get this thing going.

“I’m hoping it works and I’m wishing the team all the best, but it just didn’t fit my lifestyle. I probably should have seen that coming.”

Thomas not only runs a business in Whitehorse, he also balances his time with a professional snowmobiling career. But he admits as the coaching staff began drafting Outside players he felt the club was moving away from the team he had envisioned.

“I can’t argue with (Huskies head coach Randy Merkel), we need those eight guys,” said Thomas. “But that’s not the team I wanted to be a part of, personally. I want to play with Yukoners, with my friends, and I want to win that way.

“And how was I going to bow out as the owner and still be on the team?”

Although having no ownership may seem like a disadvantage, Merkel hopes it will be a blessing in disguise.

“When you have private ownership it really limits the amount of corporate involvement you can have,” he said. “It’s more like a non-profit organization now than a private ownership. People are less likely to donate when it’s a business.

“When we were first talking about (building the team) I didn’t want it to go this way, but Clayton went ahead and did it that way. He wanted to own it all by himself and assume the responsibilities, even though he was fairly well warned about this stuff and how much it was going to cost him.”

With the absence of an owner, the Huskies could easily have dissolved, but the coaching staff decided to keep it together to honour a commitment it made with Hockey Canada and to accomplish other long-term goals.

“Between (assistant coach) Jay (Glass) and I, we decided to see this thing through,” said Merkel. “We don’t want to let it go because, from a Hockey Canada and BC Amateur standpoint, it doesn’t look very good if we quit.

“The whole goal from the beginning was to try and develop a program some of these kids can come home to, that are playing Outside in leagues.

“The players have been working hard at it and they’re all fired up to go ahead and do this thing. We think there is a fair amount of integrity involved with Hockey Canada. They’re expecting us to put a team together like we said we were going to. We went through all the trouble to get them to register us at the last minute – it wouldn’t look very good if we just let it fall apart.”

Had the team dissolved, it wouldn’t have been the first time. This season is the Huskies’ first in 16 years, since the team won the Allan Cup in the 1992-93 season.

The Huskies began their season with a win over Powell River, but have lost their last three games. Next weekend will be the Huskies’ second two-game series against the Powell River Regals, whom the Huskies will have to beat in a five-game series in March to gain entry to the Allan Cup, Canada’s senior AAA hockey championships.

“It takes time to build a hockey team of this calibre; it doesn’t just happen,” said Merkel. “Our carding deadline was January 10, and for that reason I played the local guys as long as I possibly could to see how many guys this year could bring up their game to that level.

“Now I’m beginning the process of filling the gaps where we have to, to bring our level to the state it needs to be, to be competitive with Powell River and maybe challenge for the Allan Cup.”

Next weekend’s games against the Regals will take place February 5 and 6 at Takhini Arena. Both games start at 7:30 p.m.

“This is a precursor to our best-of-five series – this is the team we’ll have to beat,” said Merkel. “So these are extremely important games. That’s why I have our imports coming in.

“Our team is going to improve considerably to what our team was last time.

“We need the fans to come out and support us. Now that we’re on our own, it’s really important to get as many people as possible out to watch the games.”

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