With the postseason less than a month away, Haliburton County Huskies captain Patrick Saini said he and his teammates “are already in playoff mode” as a mix of teams jostle for position atop the OJHL’s East Conference.
The blue and white sit sixth in the standings – four points clear of the ninth-place Lindsay Muskies, but with a game in hand. The top eight teams qualify for the post-season. Just 10 points separate the Wellington Dukes, in second, and the Stouffville Spirit, in eighth.
It was a mixed week for the Huskies, who closed out a narrow 2-1 road win over the Georgetown Raiders Jan. 31 before falling to the Buffalo Jr. Sabres 5-2 Feb. 4.
“For us, the playoffs have already started. Every game from here on is a must win. You’ve got to be willing to jump in front of pucks to block shots, chip pucks out and play less of a pretty game, but a more effective game,” Saini said. “We want to make sure we’re coming into every game with as much intensity as possible.”
The tilt in Georgetown was a hard-hitting affair. The teams drew a blank through the opening period, with Saini taking centre stage midway through the second. The 20-year-old scored his team-leading 33rd goal of the season at 10:34, assisted by Noah Lodoen and Lucas Marshall.
Brandon Kakei tied the game early in the third, scoring on the powerplay. But the Huskies weren’t to be denied – Saini helping himself to the game-winner 6:41 into the final frame, assisted by Charlie Fink and Ian Phillips.
“That was a huge character win for us. Georgetown is in a similar position [in the West Conference] fighting for a playoff spot. It was an intense game – we had guys blocking shots, making hits, killing penalties,” Saini said.,
He credited backup goaltender Logan Kennedy, fresh off an appearance in the OJHL Prospect Game during the All-Star break, for backstopping the Huskies to an important win. The 18-year-old made 20 saves in the winning effort.
Sunday’s afternoon tilt in Buffalo came after an early start for the Huskies, who had to be on a bus at S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena by 7:30 a.m. Saini wouldn’t blame a brutal five-hour, 400-plus kilometre bus ride for the result, which was the Huskies second loss in three games.
“I don’t think we played that bad of a game in Buffalo. It wasn’t our best by any means, but we had some really good moments. We did a lot of things well, it was just a couple of mental breakdowns at bad times that they capitalized on that cost us,” Saini said.
The Huskies went behind early, Haeden Ellis scoring his 14th goal of the season 13:44 into the opening frame.
Matt Milic tied the game on the powerplay 25 seconds into the second, beating goaltender Aiden McKenna after being teed up by Lucas Stevenson. Gavin McGaheySmith added a second for the blue and white at 8:09, assisted by Aidan Yarde and Lucas Vacca.
The visitors then gave up four straight goals en route to a disappointing defeat – Josh Pryztstal tied the game 17:22 into the second; Michael Kull potted the go-ahead goal 14 minutes into the third, with Zach Derito and Ellis adding further tallies late on.
The Huskies are back on the road Friday (Feb. 9) for a huge game with the thirdplaced Markham Royals. A five-game homestand follows, with the Huskies hosting the Royals Feb. 10, the Mississauga Steelers Feb. 13, Trenton Golden Hawks Feb. 17, Lindsay Muskies Feb. 19 and Caledon Admirals Feb. 24.
“You love to play every game, but the home games are that much more fun. Our fans have been awesome the past three years. They help us when we’re not feeling so hot, they help bring us back into games. They can be a difference maker, for sure,” Saini said.