The Haliburton County Huskies wrapped up their pre-season with a 3-2 win over the Stouffvillle Spirit in a dominant display Sept. 2 at S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena.

Around 100 fans were in attendance as the Huskies sought revenge over the Spirit, who inflicted a 4-2 defeat on the blue and white in exhibition action last month. Winger Ian Phillips, a new recruit after playing the previous two seasons with the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit, impressed for the Huskies, helping himself to a pair of goals, with fan favourite Lucas Stevenson also getting on the scoresheet.

After a disappointing result last time out against the Central Canadian Hockey League’s Renfrew Wolves, the hometown team started well on Saturday. Captain Patrick Saini and Stevenson led by example in the early goings, chasing down every loose puck. When in possession, the team confidently moved the biscuit across the ice. After hammering at the door and forcing Spirit goaltender Matteo Gennaro into a series of early saves, it was Stevenson who gave the Huskies the advantage halfway through the opening frame. Assisted by Aidan Yarde, Stevenson made no mistake, beating Gennaro with 9:46 on the clock.

The lead didn’t last long, with former Husky Cameron Kosurko coming back to haunt his former team. The 20-year-old, traded to Stouffville midway through last season, tied the game at 10:14, beating Huskies netminder Vlad Visan, who was making his debut on home ice.

Undeterred, the blue and white pushed back, forcing the Spirit to take a pair of penalties – Julian Demiglio was given two minutes for hooking at 12:14, with Adamo Zingaro handed a cross-checking minor at 13:39. The lengthy five-on-three opportunity paid dividends, with Phillips tickling the twine at 14:16, assisted by Stevenson and Saini. He added a second marker, unassisted, at 18:35.

“I thought we played really well during that first period. We wanted to start strong and try and get the fans into the game as they’re almost like a sixth man for us once they get going. They exert so much energy that the guys feed off,” said Huskies coach Ryan Ramsay.

He reserved special praise for Phillips’ game-winning performance in that opening frame.

“I thought he could have had two or three goals in each of our [other exhibition] games, so it was nice to see him get a couple and boost his confidence. He’s going to be a guy we lean on to provide some offence this year,” Ramsay said.

Both teams were more reserved in the second period, but it was the Huskies that went closest to scoring – Declan Bowmaster drawing a smart save from Gennaro after a breakaway at the 12 minute mark.

The Huskies took control again early in the third, creating several chances on the man advantage after Demiglio was again assessed a two-minute hooking minor. There were some unsavoury scenes a few minutes later after Lucas Marshall crashed into a Spirit forward against the boards, earning a boarding call. The teams came together and there was some pushing and shoving, but the officials quickly regained control.

The home side killed the penalty, limiting the Spirit to just a single shot on goal.

Saini came within a whisker of finishing the game with four minutes left on the clock, hitting the iron with an instinctive shot from the slot.

After pulling their goalie, the Spirit piled on the pressure in the closing moments. Nathan Twohey made it a one-goal game, notching for the road team at 18:59. The final 30 seconds were played six-on-four after Huskies defenceman Raine Nadeau was sent to the box for interference, but the team held on, thanks to three huge stops from Visan, who was named first star of the game.

Speaking post-game with The Highlander, the 17-year-old was delighted with the win.

“The boys are buzzing after that one, we feel we gave a good account of ourselves and played well,” Visan said. Asked how he felt during those final 30 seconds, when the Spirit really applied the pressure, the goaltender added, “I was just doing whatever I could to hang on… I was a little nervous, but I feel like I’m built for those sorts of situations. When my team needs me, I’m there for them.”

The Huskies will kick off the 2023/24 OJHL season on the road Sept. 8 in Lindsay, before welcoming the Pickering Panthers to Minden Sept. 9. Puck drop is set for 4 p.m.