When Sam Solarino requested a trade from the Stouffville Spirit last summer, he hoped he’d land in a place like Haliburton.
Growing up in Markham and playing across the GTA throughout his youth, the Huskies’ two-way forward was eager for a new challenge after hitting something of a brick wall in Stouffville. He played 44 games with the Spirit during the 2019/20 season, amassing 12 points and 89 penalty minutes as a rookie.
After a year on the sidelines, the energetic winger was determined to make up for lost time. Unimpressed by his prospects in Stouffville, he gave his coach a list of teams he’d be interested in joining. The Huskies sat right at the top.
“Coach Ryan called me, told me he’d traded for me and we had a really good conversation. He told me his plans for the team … I was already pretty excited because I knew what Haliburton was like as a community,” Solarino said. “It’s a great town.”
There were lots of familiar faces in the locker room too. Solarino played with the likes of Oliver Tarr, Ryan Hall, Joe Boice and Jack Staniland during a stint with the Central Ontario Wolves at minor bantam, making the transition to a new team much easier. Solarino is billeting with Kim and Kevin Hodgkinson in Gelert.
He became a key cog on a young Huskies outfit to start the season. His grit and energy meshed well with the team’s defensive game, and he plays a big role on the penalty kill. His game has evolved at the other end of the ice, too. As a middle six forward, Solarino also gets time on the team’s second power play unit and is close to beating his rookie points total already, with 11 points in 29 games.
“Getting time at both ends of the ice is definitely making me a better player. I’ve really enjoyed myself this season. We have great chemistry as a team, and everyone pulls their weight. We really fight for each other out there,” he said.
Reflecting on his highlight of the season so far, Solarino looks back on the tense, 2-1 come-from-behind victory over rival Lindsay Muskies Nov. 12. With the score level mid-way through the final period, the Huskies found themselves killing a penalty. After dumping the puck down the ice, Solarino gave chase, pressuring Muskies goaltender Ethan Fraser into making a bad turnover and scoring a wrap-around on an empty net.
It was a decisive victory for the Huskies, who haven’t looked back and currently sit in second place in the OJHL’s East Division.
After a month-long break, the blue and white are back in action this weekend, returning to Lindsay Feb. 4 before a home tilt with the Wellington Dukes Feb. 5.
“It almost feels like we’re starting the season from scratch. There’s a lot of hockey left. And with our first game back being down in Lindsay on a Friday night, that’s exactly the same as our season opener,” Solarino said.
“Going into the second half of the season, I just want to be as positive as I can in the room and be someone that the younger guys can lean on as we go down the stretch. I think we have what it takes to make a deep playoff run, but everyone needs to buy into their role,” he added “We’ve got guys that can score goals, we’ve got guys that can be more defensive, and we’ve got great goaltending. I think everyone is focusing on one thing right now, and that’s a championship.”