The Haliburton Highlands Secondary School Red Hawks boys hockey team is ready to fly again despite depleted numbers nearly grounding them.

The team faces a large amount of turnover after making it to the regional finals last season, with less than 10 returning and approximately 20 per cent fewer players on the roster, according to coach Jason Morissette. But with a new group of youth, the Hawks will kick off their Nov. 19 home-opener with a fundraiser for the Heat Bank Haliburton County.

“We were lucky we got a team this year,” Grade 12 player Lucas Haedicke said. “We were worried about not getting one.”

Morissette attributed the decreased numbers to multiple factors, from a decline in hockey participation to kids that do play getting stretched thin.

“There’s less players that are playing in the game itself in the area. I think there are other things teenagers want to do,” Morrissette said. “There are various reasons for it but I do think the biggest one is probably just a lot of players are playing other hockey. Might be playing junior, might be playing some AAA and they’re very busy.

“But we do have enough and I’m happy we have the players we have so we can still be running a team.”

Icing a younger team means a big learning curve, Morissette said. After a winning season in 2018/19, he expects the group will be an underdog most games.

“They know that they talked about that. But we’re going to work on some systems that maybe help,” he said.

He added there is more to the game than winning.

“They have to sort of be relaxed and be allowed to have fun,” he said. “It can’t just be the pressure to win, win, win. But I’m hopeful they’re going to learn and get better each game.”

The team is planning plenty of off-ice activities at its home opener. Students can buy-out of school to attend the game, with funds raised going to the heat bank. It is a continuation of a partnership that started last year, when the Hawks raised $251 for the organization and volunteered for it.

“It brings the team together and no matter whether you win or lose that game, really it’s a winning day,” Morissette said.

The game is 1:15 p.m. at A.J. LaRue Arena.

“I want everyone to work hard and try their best. That’s really all I can ask,” Haedicke said.

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