Nick Dowling always has an extra spring in his step at this time of year.

While most people are counting the days until summer, Haliburton County Huskies’ number eight is savouring every moment, with the hometown team in the midst of what he hopes will be a lengthy playoff run.

It’s been a season to remember for the 19-year-old winger, who has been an everpresent with the blue and white. One of head coach and general manager Ryan Ramsay’s most trusted lieutenants, Dowling featured in all 54 regular season games, posting four goals and 18 assists. He’s come alive in the playoffs, putting up two points in four games against the Toronto Patriots – including scoring the opening goal in the pivotal 4-3 overtime win March 12 that helped the hometown team take control of the series.

“Playoffs are a totally different animal. Every game is do or die,” Dowling said.

“There’s that little extra pressure each shift, tensions are high among both teams. You can feel the excitement of the crowd, there’s just a totally different energy level. It’s my favourite time of year, for sure.”

This is the kind of experience Dowling envisaged after taking the unusual step of requesting a trade to the Huskies last summer. While he enjoyed a successful debut junior campaign with the Central Canada Hockey League’s Brockville Braves last year, where he found his niche as a more defensively responsible checking forward, the pull of playing close to home proved too strong.

Growing up in nearby Bracebridge, Dowling still treasures his many visits to the County as a youth. When he learned the community was getting its own Jr. A franchise, he made it his goal to play for the team. Knowing the qualities Dowling brings to the table, Ramsay was happy to oblige.

The result has been a “perfect marriage” that the six-foot, 185-pound forward hopes will continue beyond this season. He has one more season of junior eligibility.

“I think I’ve had a smile on my face since arriving here last summer,” Dowling said. “What we have here in Haliburton – the program, the facilities – it’s on par with teams at the OHL level. It’s a pretty sweet place to play hockey… I’ve improved so much as a player this year, and that’s all down to the work and guidance Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff have put in.” He said this Huskies team is the best he’s ever been a part of, noting a championship ring is the ultimate goal.

“When I look at the players we have in our locker room, guys like Ty Collins, who has won a Memorial Cup, it’s pushing us all on because we know we have the quality,” Dowling said. “We want to win for ourselves, but also for this community. The support we’ve had this season has been phenomenal, if we can give back to them a little bit of what they’ve given us, that would mean everything to me.”