Resurrected Huskies team looking for AA success

When the Whitehorse Huskies senior men's hockey club scrubbed their 2010/2011 season, former owner Clayton Thomas said it was simply too expensive to have a AAA team in Whitehorse.

When the Whitehorse Huskies senior men’s hockey club scrubbed their 2010/2011 season, former owner Clayton Thomas said it was simply too expensive to have a AAA team in Whitehorse.

A few minutes later in the November 2010 interview with the News, Thomas proposed the future of the hockey team could lie in senior AA men’s hockey.

Flash forward four years and that’s exactly what’s happened.

The Whitehorse Huskies are back and will make a run for the Coy Cup, British Columbia’s AA championship trophy.

At the AA level, teams are mostly homegrown with locals filling out the majority of the roster, explained Thomas. For the Huskies’ final best-of-five series in April 2010, the Whitehorse team flew in nine players, including some former NHLers.

“At AA, it’s good hockey, you just have less money involved and less imported players,” said Thomas on Tuesday. “At the AAA level, we need $150,000 to run that operation. You’ve got to import players, pay for players. At the AA level, when you play Fort Nelson or Fort St. John, you’re playing 95 per cent local guys.”

The Huskies played two seasons of AAA in the early 1990s and won the Allan Cup – Canada’s senior amateur trophy – in 1993. After 16 years of dormancy, the team was revived in 2009 in an effort to reclaim its former glory.

But if there’s one thing the 2009/10 season proved, Whitehorse hockey fans can’t be depended on to purchase tickets and support a local team – or, at least, a losing local team.

Approximately 770 fans attended the Huskies’ season opener in November 2009, a game that saw the Huskies’ only win of the season, going 4-2 over the Powell River Regals.

As losses for the Huskies piled up, the bleachers in Whitehorse’s Takhini Arena got emptier and emptier.

In the Huskies final series of the season – a match-up against the Regals to reach the Allan Cup – a total of 514 fans attended the final three games. That’s an average of about 171 fans for each.

Ticket sales fell short of covering the cost of Outside players and covering the travel costs of the Regals, which the Huskies organization was on the hook for. The Huskies finished the season with a 1-10 record.

With a lot more local talent to draw from this year, the timing was right for a AA Huskies team, said Thomas, the team organizer and player.

“The time was right. A lot of the local guys we didn’t have last time came back from college and are permanent residents now,” said Thomas. “It wasn’t all just that. Me and Evan Campbell and Kane Dawe went to the Coy Cup last year with Fort Nelson and got a good idea of what the hockey was, met some people involved … So we decided to fire it up all over again.”

To be eligible for the Coy Cup, the Huskies are required to play a minimum of six games against AA teams from the British Columbia Amateur Hockey Association.

The Whitehorse team is off to a good start. The Huskies won a two-game away series against the Fort Nelson Yeti a week-and-a-half ago.

The Huskies, who have Mike Tuton as head coach, took a 7-6 overtime win over the Yeti on Dec. 6. Forwards Campbell and Dawe each registered a hat trick while teammate Daniel Clethro added another. In net for Whitehorse was Brian Power, who played for the Huskies in the 2009/10 season.

Whitehorse then took a 3-2 shootout win over the Yeti on Dec. 7. Tyrell Hope and Campbell scored for the Huskies in regulation before Thomas and Dawe scored in the shootout.

The Huskies will welcome the Yeti for a pair of home games Jan. 9 and 10, and will host the Powell River Regals Jan. 30 and 31.

The Huskies will then head to Fort St. John for a series against the Flyers in March. The winning team will go on to play for the 2015 Coy Cup, which will be hosted by the Fort Nelson Yeti at the end of March.

“This is a Whitehorse team, we’re going to be skating the best three lines that are available every night that we play,” said Thomas. “We’re going to be skating 25 guys at practices so we can be skating some good high-speed scrimmages.”

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