With just three games remaining in the OJHL regular season, the Haliburton County Huskies are in a straight shot with the Wellington Dukes for second place in the South/East conference – and the post-season home advantage that comes with it.
S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena was packed to the brim on Family Day (Feb. 20) as the blue and white welcomed the Lindsay Muskies to town for the final chapter of this season’s Battle of Hwy. 35. The home team cruised to a 5-1 win, their fourth of the season over Lindsay, giving them 74 points after 51 games – one better than the Dukes, who have played a game less.
There was a celebratory mood inside the rink in the lead-up, with the Huskies holding a pre-game ceremony to honour its eight graduating players. Mid-season acquisitions Josh Currie, Boyd Stahlbaum and Zack Terry joined goaltender Aidan Spooner, top-scorer Ty Collins, assistant captains Sam Solarino and Isaac Sooklal, and captain Christian Stevens in receiving a standing ovation at centre ice, each flanked by members of their family.
Things turned serious as soon as the puck dropped Monday afternoon. Forward Lucas Stevenson lasted just 15 seconds before being handed a game misconduct for throwing a hit to the head of Muskies’ defenceman Gavin Keller.
The home side’s PK unit was resolute, killing the five-minute major and a Currie slashing minor.
Midway through the period, the Huskies found an opening – though the goal was shrouded in controversy. Currie latched onto a loose puck in front of the net at 9:41, diverting it goalward. Muskies blueliner Alexis Gonzalez-Lambert attempted a block on the goal line, but, after a lengthy stoppage, the officials gave the goal.
Carson Christy scored a penalty shot for the visiting side at 13:26, sending the teams in tied after the first buzzer.
Zack Terry rung the iron with a low shot from the slot early in the second, before Stahlbaum, who started the season with the Muskies, came back to haunt his old team. He lifted a rebound high into the Lindsay goal at 11:54 after netminder, Yacine Chemrouk, had denied Sooklal and Leo Serlin. Collins then made it a 3-1 game at 14:29, finishing off another rebound – this time on the powerplay.
The game fell a little flat in the third, though the Huskies added a pair of goals late in the frame. Stevens took advantage of a five-on-three opportunity to score his 20th goal of the season at 15:23, with Alex Cunningham tipping a Lucas Marshall shot in at 18:22.
The win was the “perfect response” to a disappointing 6-3 road loss to the Georgetown Raiders Feb. 18, Stevens told The Highlander.
“We faced a bit of adversity there early on, but our PK has been unreal all season… we stuck in there, then took full advantage when our chances came,” Stevens said.
He felt it was a good omen that the Huskies had five different names on the scoresheet. “That’s what makes a championship team – scoring from all over the ice. We have confidence no matter who’s out there.”
With playoffs looming, the Huskies look set for a seven-game series with the St. Michael’s Buzzers or Toronto Patriots. They’ve played each team four times this season, going 4-0 against St. Michael’s and splitting their series with the Patriots 2-2.
“This is the best time of the year for a hockey player. I always get excited for playoffs,” Stevens said. “We’ve got to take care of business now in these last few games, try and secure that second spot that we’ve had all year. That would give us home ice advantage, which is huge for us because we love playing in Minden in front of all our fans.”
First though, the blue and white will host the Toronto Jr. Canadiens Feb. 25, before traveling to Milton for a tilt with the Menace Feb. 26. They close out the regular season in Minden March 4 against the North York Rangers. Playoffs begin March 8.