After being dormant for 16 years, the Whitehorse Huskies AAA hockey squad can still draw a crowd.
In two games on the weekend, the Huskies drew more than 1,300 fans, who witnessed a split series with the Powell River Regals.
The Huskies kicked off their resurrection with a 4-2 win on Friday.
“As far as I’m concerned, we met all our goals and plus some,” said Huskies general manager Jim King. “We have the fans, we showed last night – at least in the one game – that we’re competitive and everyone got a chance to play.”
For the series to take place, the Huskies had to finance the Regals’ trip, covering travel and accommodations. Despite help from sponsors Air North and the High Country Inn, the team had to sell 500 tickets each night to break even. On Friday, approximately 770 fans were in the Takhini Arena stands – and beer garden – followed by 566 on Saturday. (Proceeds from the beer garden and the 50/50 draw went to the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association).
“We needed 447 tonight to break even and to put $2,000 in the bank as a bit of a cushion, so we did that plus a little bit extra,” said King. “I’m not going to say profit – that’s not the word – it’s to put towards the next event.”
Now having been shown that Whitehorse is willing and capable of supporting the team that dissolved after winning the Allan Cup in 1993, the Canadian senior AAA hockey championships, its management will continue talks with the Fort St. John Flyers about a four-game, home-and-home series, possibly in December.
“That’s in the works, and with some other teams in southern BC,” said King. “Now that we see people will come out to the games and be supportive, then we’re good to go for the next series.
“Our goal is to have one series a month, at least.”
Playing against the very team they will have to defeat in a best-of-five series to reach the Allan Cup in April, the Huskies hung on for the close win Friday before suffering a 9-1 shellacking on Saturday.
“We did everything we said we were going to do,” said Huskies head coach Randy Merkel. “We played 100 per cent local talent here this weekend. We went out there and played all our players, to see who could play and who didn’t, and we gathered our own information on that level.
“So overall, I think we had a pretty successful weekend.
“We thank the people for their support.”
Friday’s win for the Huskies came in the face of being outshot 47-27 in the game. After a scoreless first, the Huskies took the lead when Scott Horsey intercepted a Regals pass, putting a little deke-left, go-right move on the net minder and lifting it over the glove.
With less than a minute to play in the second, Huskies centre Clayton Thomas tore down the right wing with two Regals in pursuit, finding the back of the net with a quick wrist shot.
The Huskies then went up 3-1 at the start of the third on a close-quarters goal by Ryan Gleason, assisted by captain Derek Johnstone, who scored an empty netter to end the game.
“We deserved that win (Friday) night,” said Merkel. “We had terrific goaltending (from Huskies MVP on Friday, Corey McEachran), we had a full-team effort, we hit everything that moved – I think we caught that team off guard and confused them.”
Saturday’s game at first looked to be another nail biter, with the first period ending 2-1, but things spiraled out of control with five Regal goals in the second.
“I think they regrouped and came in with a little bit of a better effort than last night,” said Johnstone. “We started a little flat compared to yesterday and I think they took control fairly early and it was tough to catch up after that.”
“Last night gave us a false sense of confidence and we just weren’t the same team when we came out tonight,” said Merkel. “It’s probably a combination of a whole bunch of different things. One is that it is contact hockey and some guys might be a little tired, but it’s a different level at this calibre and you have to show up every game with the same amount of enthusiasm and play 60 minutes of hockey.”
Although the Huskies are rebuilding a team from the ground up, the Regals are also in rebuilding mode, not having a AAA team last year. But even though a handful of players were from the AA team, the Regals were a team to be reckoned with, with nine former pros including two former NHLers and three Allan Cups in the last 13 years.
“Our guys definitely had their legs underneath them today and we knew we were going to play a bit better than we did last night,” said Regals head coach Rick Hopper. “We travelled yesterday and had a chance to regroup. We had a couple new bodies in our lineup tonight, so that added a bit of depth.
“Once we got those first goals, it kind of opened up for us.”
Saturday’s lone Huskies goal was scored by Thomas, opting for the shot instead of the pass on a 2-on-1 rush in the first.
“We’re going to keep going, keep practising, get a few more games this year and we’re in against Powell River to get to the cup, so we’re going to get better,” said Johnstone.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com