Haliburton County Huskies head coach Ryan Ramsay said his team is full of confidence as it prepares for a second-round playoff series with the Wellington Dukes.
The hometown team rubber-stamped its ticket to the next stage of the post-season with a dominant 4-2 win over the Toronto Patriots in Minden March 16, securing a 4-1 series victory.
It was standing room only inside S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena, with fans lining up around the boards at ice level to catch the blue and white in action. The team got off to the perfect start just 42 seconds in, sending the crowd into a frenzy after Boyd Stahlbaum tipped an Isaac Sooklal point shot past a helpless Christopher Quizi in the Patriots goal.
The Huskies controlled play through much of the period and were unlucky on several occasions not to extend their lead – Patrick Saini, Ty Collins, and Sam Solarino each getting robbed by an in-form Quizi.
The visiting side landed a sucker punch 14:35 into the first frame, captain Zach Ophoven scoring his sixth goal of the series with a hopeful shot from the blueline that found its way past a screened Aidan Spooner.
That spurred the Huskies on, with the team finding another gear in the second. Josh Currie struck early, sliding home on the rebound at 1:13 after Solarino was denied. The home side peppered the Patriots goal but had to wait until the end of the period to extend their lead. After Anthony Giacalone was sent to the box for a rare delay-of-game penalty, the Huskies wasted no time getting to work. Collins struck the base of the post with a shot from the slot immediately after the draw, with Saini the quickest to react to flick in the eventual game-winner at 17:47
Jake Mallory gave the Patriots hope with a tally 2:34 into the final frame, before Alex Cunningham made sure of the result with a powerplay marker at 9:32.
“I thought that was the best game we played as a group during the series, we came out hard, penned them in and were really impressive with our puck management,” Ramsay said.
Their reward is a second-round series with a Dukes team that won 11 of its final 15 regular season games to pip the Huskies to second place in the South/East conference.
The two teams were evenly split when matching up this year, with each taking two wins and playing to a double-overtime tie across five games.
“There’s a lot of people buzzing about this series, it’s going to be two top teams battling it out on the ice. We’ve had a week to rest up, work on our systems, and we’re confident,” Ramsay said. “We have a team that, skill-wise and speed-wise, is right up there with the very best junior teams. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum rolling and kick off the second round the same way we ended the first.”
The Huskies travel to Wellington for Game 1 March 24, before coming back home March 25. Game 4 will be in Minden March 30, with Game 6, if needed, April 2.