By Alex Gallacher
After the inaugural 2021-22 Haliburton County Huskies season ended in playoff heartbreak, this off season the team set out to find new talent to replace the departing players. Four core members of the Huskies left the team due to aging out, starting goalie Christian Cicigoi, players Simon Rose, Nate Porter, who was the team’s captain, and Payton Schaly. Forward and the team’s top-scorer, Oliver Tarr accepted an NCAA Division 1 scholarship to Canisius College in Buffalo, forgoing his final year of Ontario Junior Hockey League eligibility to play college hockey.
While those players said goodbye to last year, a few more players announced they would be leaving the county in pursuit of new opportunities. Local players Joe Boice and Ryan Hall announced they would both be leaving the Huskies. Boice for academic opportunities and Hall being sent to play in a different league. Bryce Richardson and Kolby Poulin left the Huskies, while Nick Athanasaskos was traded to Pickering in exchange for Myles Perry, and Jonah Cochrane was shipped to Brantford in exchange for Alex Cunningham.
Rookie defensemen Noah Van Vliet was not only a member of the Huskies last season, but a member of the 2021-22 Ontario Hockey League championship winning Hamilton Bulldogs. Having played in the 2022 Memorial Cup, Van Vliet was invited to attend Toronto Maple Leafs development camp in July. However, Van Vliet will not be returning to the Huskies as he looks to take a permanent spot on the Bulldogs blue line.
“It’s hard to fill these spots in the roster,” said head coach and general manager Ryan Ramsay. “We lost a lot of key guys and key secondary guys as well. I love this part of the job the most, preparing and getting a team going is something we do every year but we’ve worked hard over the summer to put together a competitive team and I think we are well prepared for the upcoming year.”
Despite these losses, the Huskies quickly got to work adding to their roster. First up was Cunningham, a 2002 born forward acquired from the Brantford 99ers. With 23 points in 45 games last season, he looks to add experience to the Huskies offense. Bracebridge, Ontario forward Nicholas Dowling was acquired by the Huskies on June 30 from the Brockville Braves of the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL). Dowling logged 45 points during his under-18 career with the North Central Predators and a further 15 CCHL points with Brockville.
Perry, a former member of the defending OJHL champion Pickering Panthers, will make his Huskies debut this season. Perry logged 35 points with the Panthers, with an additional 32 points coming from his time in North York. In addition to the trades, the team also signed goalie Tyler Hodges and forwards Leo Serlin and Declan Bowmaster. All three players made appearances with the Huskies last season.
Hodges picked up a 3-1 victory in October over the North York Rangers in his lone start of 2021, while Serlin has come up from the Toronto Marlboros under-16 team, logging 48 points in 45 games. Serlin made one appearance with the Huskies last season, logging no points and two penalty minutes. Bowmaster put up three assists in four games with the Huskies, a rather standout debut for the Newmarket, Ontario forward, who nearly scored on his first OJHL shot. Bowmaster spent most of his 2021-22 season with the Oshawa Generals under-18 team, tallying 21 points in 26 games.
“I think our team is better than it was last year,” Ramsay said. “We’ve brought in a lot of good pieces, we made some pretty big trades during the season last year, but I really like our roster this year. We have a lot of returning players as well, now that they are older I think that’s a big key factor as well.”
In addition to the new players, the second captain in Huskies history was named earlier this month. Christian Stevens will proudly wear the “C” on his jersey this year, while Isaac Sooklal will be the assistant captain. Stevens logged 48 points in 45 games last season with the Huskies, after coming from the OHL’s North Bay Battalion. Stevens most notably scored the first ever Michigan-style goal at the S.G Nesbitt Memorial Arena, the goal coming during a 4-3 loss to the Caledon Admirals.
Taking over for Porter won’t be an easy job, but Stevens feels he is up for the challenge having learned a lot from the former captain last year. This is something he has dreamt of for a long time during his hockey career, but also something he is used to in his junior days.
“It’s an honour truly,” Stevens said. “This is a great group of guys and Nate Porter did a fantastic job last season. I thought I had it in me, and when I was a kid I was always a captain in minor so it feels amazing. We are all still pretty riled up after the end to the season last year, so I’m looking forward to getting back at it and leading some of these young guys and hopefully make a good playoff push.”
The decision was one that the coaching staff deliberated on for a while, but the choice to give Stevens the captaincy is one that coach Ramsay feels will give the team the best possible leadership core.
“Stevens is a great kid who works super hard on and off the ice,” Ramsay added. “He is very vocal on the ice and is a kid who leads by example. He has matured a lot over the years I’ve known him and he knows how to step up. He has been with us for over five years, from Whitby to Haliburton. We will also have Isaac Sooklal who will have the assistant captain duties and will take the roll of captain whenever Christian isn’t in the lineup.”
In terms of goalies, Ramsay did confirm that Christian Linton will be the starter come opening night with rookie Tyler Hodges serving as a backup. Linton, had a record of 6-6-0 with one shutout and a save percentage of .920. Making a total of 13 starts last season backing up Cicigoi, Linton shined during a tough late season stretch where he won four games in a row.
While Hodges played one game last year, a 3-1 win against the Rangers back on October 10. Spending a majority of last season with the York-Simcoe Express under-18, recording a 2.95 save percentage in 14 games played. Hodges is only 16, and coach Ramsay believes he still has a lot to learn before being able to step up to starter.
“Chris Linton will be our starter for this year,” Ramsay concluded. “Linton played really well in the games he started last year and we are looking for improvements for this season. He has been working hard in the off season and is a great kid all around. Tyler Hodges is still young, he is only 16, and although he started a game for us last year, which he won, he still needs to get comfortable in this league and find his groove. He has a lot to learn, but Hodges is another hard worker and we know he will settle in rather quickly.”
As the 2022-23 season looms closer, expect more player announcements and more fantastic Huskies hockey. A full seasons schedule has yet to be released, however, fans can expect that announcement will come in the next few weeks.