The Haliburton County Huskies’ season is over after the hometown team fell to a tough 3-2 defeat to the Wellington Dukes at S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena March 30.
The second-round OJHL playoff series ended in a 4-0 sweep.
Head coach Ryan Ramsay made a big call ahead of the game, opting to hand 17-year-old goaltender Tyler Hodges his first start of the post-season. Hodges was named to the league’s rookie all-star team March 23 after a regular season that saw him win 13 of his 19 starts, posting a 2.00 goals against average and .931 save percentage.
Thursday’s do-or-die encounter couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for the Huskies, who found themselves behind early doors. Dukes forward Barret Joynt squeezed one past Hodges at 3:31, assisted by Corbin Roach, to silence the home crowd.
The visiting side grew in confidence throughout the first, and after goaltender Jacob Osborne had pulled off a series of saves to deny Sam Solarino, Marco Iozzo and Isaac Sooklal, they struck again. Capitalizing on the man advantage, after Lucas Stevenson was sin binned for interference, Luke Strickland sniped the puck past a screened Hodges at 14:12 to give the Dukes a 2-0 lead.
The Huskies didn’t let their heads drop, and after being handed a powerplay opportunity of their own, Josh Currie halved the deficit at 16:02. Picking up a loose puck in the slot, he wasted no time adjusting his body and firing one in top cheese to breathe new life into the game.
There were celebrations in the stands and on the ice 18 seconds into the second after the puck inconspicuously found its way into the Dukes’ net, though the refs immediately waved the goal off, with some debate as to whether it had crossed the line before the net had come off its frame.
It was one way traffic from there, with the Huskies dominating the puck. They couldn’t find an answer for an impressive Osborne, who turned away 18 shots in the period – the best a cross-crease scramble to deny Leo Serlin a certain goal at the 12-minute mark.
The home side maintained the pressure during the third and twice struck the iron. The air was sucked out of the building at 12:50 when Lucas LaPalm notched a powerplay marker with just 10 seconds remaining on the man advantage, assisted by Strickland and David Campbell.
Marco Iozzo gave the Huskies a chance with a short-handed tally at 15:59, but even after pulling Hodges for the final two minutes they couldn’t find a way past Osborne, who finished the night with 46 saves.
There was a flashpoint as the final buzzer rang, with several Dukes players taking cheap shots at Huskies captain Christian Stevens and Solarino. Dropping the gloves for the final time in his junior career, Solarino got the best of Julien Jacob as both teams, and the officials, watched on.
After recognizing the home crowd, the Huskies players lined up at centre ice for the traditional post-series handshake, but were snubbed by the Dukes who instead left the ice and retreated to the visiting locker room. Ramsay and Dukes coach, Derek Smith, did exchange handshakes.
Emotions spilled over afterwards, with Stevens, Sooklal, Solarino, Boyd Stahlbaum, Currie, Iozzo, Luca Rea, Ty Collins and Aidan Spooner all calling time on their junior careers.
The Huskies finished the 2022/23 season with 40 wins, 19 losses, three overtime defeats and one tie.
The team will host a rookie camp ahead of the 2023/24 season at S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena May 6 and 7 for players born between 2003 and 2008. Cost to attend is $350, plus HST. All players that are minor hockey eligible must have a ‘permission to skate’ slip to get onto the ice.