The Huskies and Flyers are tied moving into the second round of the 2014 Northern Hockey Challenge, set to take place next month in the capital, with one tie, and a win each for the Hay River and Yellowknife teams.
“It just means we’re going to have to win it in Yellowknife,” said Mayor Andrew Cassidy, lamenting that there probably wouldn’t be as many Huskies fans there to see what could be a victory.
The series opened up in the last half hour of Jan. 17 and into the early morning of Jan. 18 as a result of various delays. Both teams played hard and ended up tying with three goals each.
“It was stressful on all the guys,” said Huskies coach and NHC organizer Greg Rowe. “They waited around to play for so long and to keep that level of energy up is really tough, but they played a good game.
Rowe was also impressed that the crowd stayed until 1:30 in the morning after a three and a half hour delay meant the puck dropped at 11:30 rather than 8 p.m as scheduled. He said it really showed the dedication of Hay River hockey fans that they toughed it out.
Hay River routed the Flyers in the second game, finishing at 6-0 on Jan. 18, but then lost in the third 4-3. After coming back from a 3-0 gap in the first and tying it up in the second, the Flyers scored the winning goal with just 1:48 left in the third period.
“We had some good speed, but a few mistakes cost us,” Rowe said after the first game. “I just want to see the team commit to and be able to play both sides from here on out.”
Mike Taylor, who started for the Huskies in the third game, keeping them in it through the third period, said he was impressed with the way the team improved every game and hoped to see the trend continue when they play in the capital in February.
“We have a really strong team this year,” he told The Hub. “We just need to keep battling hard and do the best we can.”
Taylor came back to the ice this year after four years off, partially spent recovering from an injury. He said that while he was getting back into the game pretty quick and that the team had practiced a lot before the start of the series, last weekend was really the first time they had played as a team against an opponent.
Brad Mueller, captain of the Yellowknife Flyers, said one of the best things about the NHC was getting to know players from both Yellowknife and Hay River under different circumstances.
“You see a lot of the guys either in our own rec league or at tournaments, but now we get to play at a different level with and against each other,” he said. “It’s such a great rivalry, we didn’t want to let it die.”
Echoing what local players had said in the weeks leading up to the games, Mueller said one of the main goals of the NHC is to give young hockey players something to look up to. He even noted that the next meeting of the teams in the capital is scheduled the same weekend as a minor hockey tournament so the younger players can come out and watch.
“One of the great things is being able to come down here and compete,” said Mueller. “But then you take the skates off and you’re all buddies.”
As true as the camaraderie rings, the friendly rivalry between the NWT’s two biggest communities is still alive and well.
“It’s always nice to have a home advantage,” said Taylor. “But we’ll just keep getting better and better and take it all home, hopefully.”