The Whitehorse Huskies AAA hockey team won its season opener.
But they’ve been winless ever since.
This weekend, the beleaguered team will be on the ice hoping to replay the glory of November’s 4-2 win over the Powell River Regals as they take on the Fort St. John Flyers, the host of this year’s Allan Cup.
Raising the team’s hopes is the return of goalie Cory McEachran, who was in net for the season opener but left the team before the following series against the Paradise Hill Hawks in January.
“Life was kind of busy around here with a one-year-old and a brand new baby on the way,” said McEachran, 31, who has lived in Whitehorse for the last three years. “My girlfriend got medevaced down to Edmonton due to early complications with the baby, so I was needed around the house more. We have four kids.
“I was kind of tired of hockey as well. I’ve played 20 of the past years every day and I just wasn’t ready to get back on the ice. I took off last year and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to get back on the ice fulltime.
“There were a lot of things blowing around and hockey just wasn’t first on my priority list.”
This weekend’s games, taking place Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Takhini Arena, are the final regular season games for the Huskies before they face the Regals in a five-game series at the start of next month in Whitehorse, the winner of which will go to the Allan Cup.
McEachran is no stranger to the Cup.
He won two with the Lloydminster Border Kings, and was named to the Cup’s All-Star team in 2005. He was tournament MVP in 2007.
“Any time March and April come around, you think about the Allan Cup,” said McEachran. “Before I stopped playing last year, I was there four years in a row.
“I still have the itch to play; I just burned myself out.”
Since McEachran left the team, local player Brian Power and Roby Gropp, drafted from Kamloops, BC, have been between the pipes for the Huskies during their last five games.
“Brian is a local guy and I’m loyal to my local guys,” said Huskies head coach Randy Merkel. “Robby (Gropp) will probably be back for the five-game series in case something happens. Brian has a rotator cuff injury, but I don’t know it that’s going to be an issue. He’s played through it so far this season.
“Brian has been here all year and has come out to every practice.”
Low on game-play this season, and with Power to get more next weekend in the native hockey tournament, Merkel has decided to give McEachran the start both nights.
“Brian’s game is really coming along, so I’m not too worried about Brian – I know he’s going to be all right,” said Merkel. “Cory will start both games because we have to get him into game shape – get his game-head on.”
This weekend’s series will also see two or three new additions to the Huskies lineup, which conversely means a few cuts. For example, former Toronto Maple Leaf John Craighead, who played for the Huskies in their last series, was cut because of his lack of conditioning.
“You have to be in good shape in this kind of hockey, and no amount of resume matters,” said Merkel. “John wasn’t in shape and wasn’t ready. He has credentials and I wish he came in shape and ready.
“He may have underestimated the calibre of hockey here.”
One new player on the Huskies’ line up is Saskatchewan-born defenceman Chris Newans, coming out of Anchorage, Alaska, with 20 years of professional hockey experience. Newans played a season in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins and played for the Phoenix Roadrunners in the Central Hockey League last year.
“For the last 10 years he’s been captain of every team he’s played for,” said Merkel.
This weekend’s series will feature a Mustangs Night on Saturday. Sponsored by Yukon Electric, all Mustang players and players from the junior female Arctic Winter Games team will get free entry to the game. The beer garden will be open both nights.
“It would be nice to see some fan support out for the weekend,” said McEachran. “People are always wondering why there’s nothing to go watch and why there’s nothing in town. Now that we have something on the stage, let’s see if we can get the fans out to support this.
“Putting out a bid for Hockey Town in Canada, I think this is perfect starting grounds to show CBC, or the governing board, or whoever chooses, that we are a hockey town.”
“I think the Fort St. John Flyers are going to be a very strong hockey club,” said Merkel. “They are a professional organization and that’s why they were awarded the Allan Cup tournament.
“They have had two years to dangle the carrot of a guaranteed spot at the Allan Cup in front of some pretty good players.
“Having said that, we have a pretty strong team, as well.”
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