Hay River Huskies clinch NHC playoff berth

Hay River Huskies captain Christian Brideau accepts the Monster of the Game award following a great performance against the Inuvik Delta Stars.
— Myles Dolphin/NNSL photo

The Hay River Huskies came away with three out of a possible four points following a pair of games against the Inuvik Delta Stars on Feb. 22 and 23, part of the Northern Hockey Challenge (NHC).
The Huskies destroyed the Stars by a score of 8-3 in the first game, but the teams played to a 4-4 tie in the second game thanks to a last-minute equalizer by Stars forward Mickey Ipana.
Both games were well-attended as the Huskies sought their first victory since beating Inuvik 3-1 on Jan. 26. Since then, the team had gone 0-2-2.
Huskies coach Mike Gravel said his team may have had a slight advantage even before the first game started.
“They had to travel all day to get to Hay River,”
he said,  of the Stars.
“Maybe they had a bit of jet lag.”
The game was close until midway through the second period, when the Stars began taking too many penalties and the Huskies scored two quick power-play goals.
“The first two periods had it all: great saves and both teams caught lucky breaks to score their goals,” said Chris Smith, who keeps Northern fans updated via social networking service Twitter.
He said the third period came down to conditioning, as the Huskies took advantage of a tired opponent to score four more goals.
The second game featured a few heated moments where players dragged each other to the ice, and plenty of end-to-end rushes by Huskies defenceman and captain Christian Brideau, who spent a few years playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when he was younger.
“This happens the more you play a team,” Gravel said.
“It was our fourth time playing them. This happened with Yellowknife, too. After you play a team three or four times you develop a rivalry.”
After getting an early 4-1 lead, the Huskies played a bit too complacently in the third period, allowing the Stars to claw their way back to within a goal. In the last minute of the game, Mickey Ipana found himself alone in front of helpless Huskies goalie Morgan Leblanc and buried the goal.
“We got into some penalty trouble and gave them an opportunity to get their power-play going in the third period,” Gravel said.
He added that the team played some excellent hockey throughout the weekend, but it needs to get back to being a bit more consistent.
“We’ve been playing really good hockey but for whatever reason we stopped doing the things that make us successful in the second period,” he said, referring to the second game.
“We just need to get back to playing a full 60-minute game.”
Because of the positive results this weekend, the Huskies are guaranteed to finish second in the Western Arctic division, and thus will meet the Yellowknife First Air Flyers in the first round of the playoffs.

— Myles Dolphin