Getting back on the ice this week has felt like a homecoming for Huskies forward Christian Stevens, who is looking to lead by example this year after being named as the franchise’s second ever team captain.
The 20-year-old Brooklin, ON native is hoping for a big season to close out his junior hockey career. As a key member of the team that progressed to the Division finals last year, Stevens’ goal is to go one step further this time around and compete for a championship.
He’ll look to do so with a new letter stitched to his chest, upgrading his ‘A’ to a ‘C’ after being selected by head coach and general manager Ryan Ramsay to replace the outgoing Nathan Porter.
Reflecting on that move, Stevens said that while he has some massive skates to fill, he’s looking forward to helping this young Huskies outfit grow throughout the season.
“I’ve been a leader before and have been around the game long enough to know what’s expected. I’ve always prided myself on being the hardest working guy on the ice,” Stevens said. “Hockey, at this level, is all about sacrifices and how much you want it, so I’ll be focusing on teaching some of the new kids on the team how to play the right way, and how to act off the ice too.”
There will be some familiar faces to help along the way, with defenceman Isaac Sooklal returning in a leadership capacity. Forwards Sam Solarino, Patrick Saini and Lucas Stevenson, key locker room leaders last season, will also be back.
While the team is losing the likes of Porter, top-scorer Oliver Tarr and veteran presences such as Simon Rose and Christian Cicigoi, Stevens said he’s very impressed with the team Ramsay has put together ahead of this new season.
Now a week into pre-season, Stevens has had an opportunity to get to know some of his new teammates and see what they can do on the ice.
“We have a really fast team this year. A lot of young guys with high-end skill. Camp has been really good so far, we’ve been snapping the puck around, throwing the body – we seem to have a lot of competitors, which can only be a good thing,” Stevens said. “Even the blue and white [intrasquad] game we played on Sunday, everyone played really hard and showed why they deserve to be on the team. The guys all seem like they’re ready to go.”
After finishing second in team scoring last year, putting up 48 points in 45 regular season games, Stevens wants to take an extra step this season to help make up for the loss of Tarr. The former OHL star has been working throughout the summer on his fitness, puck handling and shooting with assistant coach Jordan Bailey to make sure he hits the ground running once games begin.
He will lead the team out this evening as they kick off their exhibition schedule with a road game against the Stouffville Spirit.
The two teams will duke it out in a second game at S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena on Sunday.
With last season’s OJHL champions the Pickering Panthers also on the pre-season program, with home games Sept. 2 and 4, it will be a good opportunity for the Huskies to test themselves against some of the league’s top talent.
They then get their regular season underway with a home tilt against the Cobourg Cougars Sept. 10. Stevens said he’s already counting down the days until he steps out onto the ice in Minden, in front of a raucous hometown crowd.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, coming out on the ice with the crowd cheering and shouting. That’s why we play hockey,” Stevens said. “The crowd showed last season just how big a difference they can make. They’re so loud, which really impacts our game. We just feed off of their energy. They’re like the sixth man on the ice, for sure. The crowd in Minden definitely helps us to win games.”