The Junior Huskies surprised some teams over the weekend. They surprised themselves too.
The Whitehorse team didn’t know what to expect at the Edmonton AAA Spring Classic – their first AAA tournament – over the weekend in Alberta.
They could have been blown out of the water. That was not the case.
The Junior Huskies won gold in the 2006-birth-year division, capping an undefeated season with two tournament wins.
“It pushed us to our limits a little bit, so it was sort of what we wanted,” said Huskies head coach Derek Johnstone.
“You never know what kind of calibre it’s going to be at these tournaments, especially if they are AAA tournaments. These spring hockey clubs have been doing this for years now and have programs in place. You come to Edmonton and play Sherwood Park or Lloydminster or St. Albert or University of Alberta, and they draw from a couple hundred people who try out for their teams.
“It was sort of nerve-wracking to come down here, but to see what we did was very exciting.”
The Huskies pocketed their second gold of the season with a 4-3 win over the Junior Golden Bears, a team affiliated with University of Alberta, in Sunday’s final.
Whitehorse’s Jase Johnstone got the ball rolling with a goal to make it 1-0, assisted by Nash Holmes and Jaxon Tentrees.
Taylor Bierlmeier added another 32 seconds later on a pass from Seth Sheardown-Waugh.
After the Bears got on the board, Huskies’ Luke Cozens answered right back, assisted by Landon Cowper, to make it 3-1 going into the second period.
Whitehorse’s Jonny Timmons knocked in the game-winner at 4-2, assisted by Holmes, midway through the second.
The Bears pulled to within one with 7:25 left in regulation before Huskies goalie Alex Picknell made some big plays to secure the gold.
“He made a couple huge saves in those seven minutes,” said Derek. “There was one key save. It was like a breakaway and Alex slid across with the poke-check and pretty much saved a goal for us in the final five minutes.”
The Huskies won four straight to place first in the round robin a take a bye into the final.
They opened with a 9-3 thumping of Northern Alberta Legends All-Stars on Friday. Whitehorse highlighted their depth with eight different goal-scorers. Taylor Bierlmeier was the only one to notch two in the game.
The Huskies then squeaked by the Northern Border Stars from Lloydminster in the evening, fighting back from down 4-1 to win 8-7. Cozens shined in that one with five goals.
“The team never gave up and it ended up being a barnburner right down to the last minute,” said Derek.
With concerns over getting the bye to the final – hoping to avoid a goals-for, goals-against tiebreak – the Huskies didn’t let off the gas in a 14-3 win over Sherwood Park’s Chain Team Saturday.
“We needed more goals, so we just poured it on to make sure we finished first (in the round robin),” said Derek.
Whitehorse obtained the bye to the final with an 8-6 win over Junior Golden Bears, who they later met in the final.
The Junior Huskies claimed their first gold at the 2016 Heat Blast Tournament in Kelowna, B.C., at the start of May. They downed the Kelowna Red Heat 5-4 in the final on a game-winner from Cozens.
With five wins in Kelowna and five in Edmonton, the Huskies cap the spring hockey season with an unblemished 10-0 record.
“At the end of the game they were yelling 10-and-0 … They have reason to be proud of that record, for sure,” added Derek.
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Junior Huskies roster
Head coach: Derek Johnstone
Assistant coach: Justin Halowaty
Assistant coach: Mike Tuton