Expectations are high as the Haliburton County Huskies get set to kick off their inaugural season in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), with head coach and general manager Ryan Ramsay laying down a marker and challenging his young squad to push for a playoff spot this year.
After months of behind-the-scenes planning and preparation, the Huskies are now just a day away from making their competitive debut. The team will take on the Lindsay Muskies in a home and home series this weekend, beginning Friday night on the road and culminating with a match-up at SG Nesbitt Memorial Arena in Minden on Saturday.
Ramsay was bullish when discussing his expectations for the season, noting that, having worked with most of his players throughout the summer, he knows they have what it takes to make an impact in the OJHL.
“I really like our team. I think we have a really young, exciting team,” Ramsay said, noting his roster was among the youngest in the league. “From what I’ve seen so far, we’re a team that loves to compete.
“Our goals for this season … we want to make the playoffs. I [will] judge success on at least making playoffs,” Ramsay added. Pre-season was a bit of a mixed bag for the Huskies. The team started out with a pair of wins over the Aurora Tigers, where their top scoring line – particularly Bryce Richardson and Oliver Tarr – impressed.
The pair combined for 17 points against the Tigers.
This past weekend, the Huskies went head-to-head with the Collingwood Blues – a perennial challenger for the OJHL championship. Ramsay said those games would give a good indication of where his team is at heading into the regular season. On Friday (Sept. 24) in Collingwood, the Huskies battled hard but ultimately succumbed to a 6-1 defeat.
The very next night in Minden, the team rallied and were impressive for large stretches of the game. Despite an improved performance, the Huskies gave up a 3-1 decision.
“I know the game in Collingwood, the score didn’t look too great for us, but we started off that game really well. We outchanced them the whole first period, but still found ourselves down 3-0 by the end of the first period,” Ramsay noted, saying the Blues scored on their second, third and fifth shots of the game. “By then, the game was pretty much a wash, but I was pleased with our compete level and the speed of our play. Even in that final period, when the game was obviously gone, the boys didn’t give up.
“On home ice, we were better again, but Collingwood is a top team,” Ramsay said. He also reserved special praise for the local community, who came out in droves over the past couple of weekend to support their new team. Both home exhibition games were sellouts, and Ramsay expects that trend to continue well into the regular season.
Earlier this summer, it was reported that the Huskies had sold well over 200 season tickets to excited fans – giving them access to all 27 home games during the regular season.
“We couldn’t be happier about the support we have received from the community – we’ve seen it from people wanting to buy tickets, businesses looking to sponsor, and families [volunteering to serve as billets]. The Haliburton County community has really welcomed this team,” Ramsay said.
He would go on to admit that, given the level of interest in season tickets and capacity restrictions brought on by COVID19, single game ticket availability for seats in the rink will likely be limited for the foreseeable future.
The Huskies will compete in the OJHL’s East Division, against the Muskies, the Wellington Dukes, the Trenton Golden Hawks and the Cobourg Cougars. While a playoff spot is the eventual goal, Ramsay said it was difficult to predict where his team would land given the unknowns surrounding some of the other teams.
“Looking at previous seasons, Wellington, Trenton and Cobourg tend to bring in a lot of older players. But it’s tough to predict how everyone is going to look right now – the OJHL didn’t play last year, so there’s not really much to go off. We don’t know if Cobourg is losing five players, or if they’re losing 15 players. I think it’s going to be a bit of a weird year,” Ramsay said. “I think it’s going to take the first month to really judge how we’re going to stack up against some of the other teams.