A disastrous penultimate weekend of the OJHL regular season saw the Haliburton County Huskies fall to back-to-back defeats, leaving the hometown team clinging to third place in the league’s South/East conference.
A tempestuous tilt with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens Feb. 25 at S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena culminated in a 7-1 defeat for the blue and white, who followed up with a 6-4 road loss to the Milton Menace Feb. 26. The results saw the Huskies drop below the Wellington Dukes in the race for second place, with one game left to play – this Saturday on home ice against the North York Rangers.
A win would clinch third, and likely seven-game playoff series with the Toronto Patriots – though the Huskies have a chance to move up a position if the Dukes lose both of their remaining games. Should the Huskies lose to the Rangers, and the Trenton Golden Hawks win their final two games, the home team would drop to fourth – setting up a first-round series with the rival Cobourg Cougars.
“Our season, and where we finish, really comes down to one final game. We can still control our fate,” head coach and general manager Ryan Ramsay told The Highlander
There was a playoff feel to Saturday’s contest, which was marred by a violent third period that featured two line brawls and saw the Huskies finish the game with a heavily depleted bench.
After a tense opening two periods, where the Canadiens established a 2-0 lead, the Huskies came out flying in the final frame. Aggressive on the forecheck, the home side controlled the puck during the early going, creating several big chances. Forwards Sam Solarino, Luca Rea and Marco Iozzo went close, but couldn’t find a way past a dialed-in James Norton in the visiting goal.
With the Huskies pushing, the Canadiens landed a sucker punch at 6:10 – Cameron van Weelie scoring on the team’s first notable attack of the period. Owen Saye followed with a powerplay marker a minute later, giving the visitors a 4-0 lead.
Frustration grew in the stands and on the bench, and after officials missed a blatant crosscheck on Huskies blueliner Isaac Sooklal, only to call a slashing penalty on Leo Serlin seconds later, emotions spilled over. Ramsay and Stevens were ejected for abuse of officials, with Rea, Josh Currie, Sooklal, Josh Sordo, Lucas Marshall and Boyd Stahlbaum kicked out for fighting. Solarino was then handed a five-minute major and game misconduct for charging after a vicious hit against the boards.
The Huskies played the final eight minutes on the penalty kill, giving up three more goals. Solarino notched the sole tally for the home side.
“Obviously, things escalated pretty quickly in the third – I think it was just guys sticking up for each other and themselves, which I’m fine with,” Ramsay said, feeling the officials could have done a better job. The crowd agreed, booing the officials, and throwing plastic cups and popcorn onto the ice after the final buzzer.
Ramsay was handed a two-game suspension for his actions, with Marshall, Solarino, Stevens, Sordo, Rea and Stahlbaum also sanctioned.
That led to a much-changed lineup Sunday against the Menace, which included a pair of 15-year-old affiliate players, and the Huskies dropped a second consecutive game.
“We played a pretty sound game, we just ran out of gas late in the third, which can happen when you’re running three forward lines and five defencemen,” Ramsay said.
Puck drop for the decisive season finale March 4 in Minden is 4 p.m.