In the end, the scores didn’t really matter all that much as the Northern Hockey Championship – a new senior recreational competition involving seven teams in the NWT and Nunavut – debuted in Hay River over the weekend.
The Hay River Huskies lost two games to the Yellowknife Flyers.
However, Mike Gravel, an assistant coach with the Huskies, said it was a successful launch of the challenge in Hay River.
“We talked to a lot of fans after the games and everyone was really glad and happy to see this calibre of hockey come back to Hay River,” he said. “I know the guys on the team love playing. They love playing this style of hockey, best-on-best, and getting the fans out to the rink and playing in front of their fans. So I think everybody is excited about it.”
For the two games on the weekend – Feb. 8 and 9 – the arena was almost full – approximately 250 attended the first game and nearly 300 the second.
“That was good to see,” Gravel said, noting a lot of people involved with hockey were away for tournaments. “I think we did pretty good considering the amount of people that were out of town. I think, once word of mouth gets out there of how good the hockey was, our next home games against Inuvik will
be even better.”
Team member Curtis Rowe was also pleased and excited by the fan support.
“It was awesome to see the people in the stands,” Rowe said.
One of the fans at the game was Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard, who said it was an exciting brand of hockey.
“It’s good to have it back in Hay River,” Bouchard said.
The next game in Hay River will be on Feb. 22 when the team from Inuvik comes to town.
The Huskies’ next action will be this coming weekend in Yellowknife when they again face the Flyers.
“What we’re doing is we’re playing a home-and-home series,” said Gravel. “So they came here to play against us and next weekend we’re off to Yellowknife to play them.”
The challenge has three teams in the NWT – Hay River, Yellowknife and Inuvik – and four in Nunavut. It features senior rec hockey players 18 years of age and over.
In late January, the Huskies played their first two games in Inuvik, winning one and losing the other.
Gravel said the team played well again this past weekend against Yellowknife despite losing two games.
The Huskies lost 4-3 on Friday and 7-4 on Saturday.
“We outshot Yellowknife by a wide margin in both games,” said Gravel. “I know we had nearly 50 shots on Friday night and (Saturday) night we had 46 shots, and they had just over 20. So in both games we controlled the play. We dominated on the shot clock, for sure.”
However, he said Yellowknife’s goalies played well and the Flyers have one very dangerous line.
“I think we had a solid team effort by everybody. I think that’s evidenced by the way we controlled the play. We did have a few players stand out,” Gravel said, mentioning scorer Daniel Basque and defenseman Christian Brideau, the team captain.
“We’re quite positive that we’ll be able to redeem ourselves and get some more victories next time we hit the ice,” added the assistant coach.
Rowe also thinks the Huskies played pretty well on the weekend.
The team needs to bear down and capitalize on its chances, he said. “Otherwise, I think the team is coming together well.”
Overall, Gravel believes the quality of play in the new league has been great.
“It’s probably the highest quality hockey we’ve seen in the North in a long time,” he said. “It’s the best players from each community playing, so it’s high-calibre. It’s been very fast. There’s no body checking, but at the same time the games have been fairly physical.”
– Paul Bickford