By Alex Gallacher
The Haliburton County Huskies have had a great defence core comprised of the savvy vets Isaac Sooklal and Nate Porter, the offensive expert Simon Rose and the hometown boy Ryan Hall.
However, the youth movement on the Huskies defence has been led by Jack Staniland, Jonah Cochrane and Will Gourgouvelis. The three 2003-born players have been producing great numbers this season, but the leading among the pack has been Gourgouvelis with three goals and 15 points. For Gourgouvelis, playing in the OJHL has been a dream come true as pro hockey has always been a career aspiration for the Whitby native.
Getting his start playing for the Whitby Wildcats AAA program, he ventured over to the Ajax Raiders for his U18 career before landing with the Fury for the COVID-shortened season.
Impressing GM/Head Coach Ryan Ramsay, Gourgouvelis was immediately offered a spot on the brand new Huskies team upon the completion of tryouts.
“Ever since I was young my parents put me in skates,” Gourgouvelis said. “I grew up in Whitby and played most of my minor hockey there, last year I was approached by Ryan Ramsay who wanted me to join the team back when they were in Whitby. I played eight exhibition games during the COVID year and when the team was going to be moved I was really excited ,and it’s been amazing so far.”
Since the team moved, it has enjoyed a bevy of fan support unlike most other teams in the league. During the post games in the back half of the season, young fans have been swarming the dressing room to get pucks, broken sticks and other various autographs. For Gourgouvelis, this hasn’t been something he is used to in his past but to have the NHL treatment in his first season of Junior A is very special.
“The fans here have been amazing,” Gourgouvelis added. “It always adds to your game knowing you’ll be playing in front of a big group of people. The experience is amazing and I can’t wait to get back on the ice.”
Being a defensemen is unique to being on a forward line, as defenders only have one partner as opposed to two. There have been some iconic defence pairings in the NHL over the years, take for example Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski of the Detroit Red Wings, however Gourgouvelis has had a few different partners of the season but seems to have settled in with Staniland.
Chemistry is important for a good defence to work and Gourgouvelis has loved the vibe in the dressing room and on ice.
“It’s important to know your partner really well,” Gourgouvelis said. “It’s even more important because everyone lives up here. Everyone billets so it gave us the chance to gel and bond really closely. We hang out with the teammates a lot and it really helps the chemistry, and brings our team closer together.”
Gourgouvelis billets by himself with Jim and Cheryl Waddell. Being relatively far from home for the first time in his career, the Waddell family have opened their doors to him to make him feel very much at home. When asked about who he wanted to give a special thanks to for the season, Gourgouvelis simply said, “I want to thank my billet family for everything they have done.”
Having two more years of eligibility left, Gourgouvelis plans to continue his quest to play hockey at the next level. He doesn’t seem to mind where that next level comes, whether it be the OHL, NCAA, Europe or even the NHL, Gourgouvelis just wants to continue to play the game he loves. Most importantly, he wants to remain with the Huskies for 2022/23 pending any post-season trades. Playing a small town has been a fun experience for the rookie, and with the small town vibe it often leads to being noticed in public. With the team being a focal point of the community, it has led to the players becoming local celebrities within the county. For Gourgouvelis, he definitely loves interacting with the fans both inside and out of the arena.
“It’s really special,” Gourgouvelis concluded. “It makes you feel like a celebrity and just shows how great the people in this town are. They are so nice and so good at making us feel really welcomed.”
As the playoffs loom ever so much closer, look for No.21 to be manning the blue line, creating plays and practicing his juggling skills off the ice.