By Alex Gallacher
The inaugural season for the Haliburton County Huskies ended in heartbreak Wednesday night, April 20 at the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena in Minden. The 4-3 overtime loss to the visiting Cobourg Cougars in game three of the East division finals, means that unfortunately the playoff run has come to an end. As a result of the loss, the Cougars won the best-of-three playoff series, 2-1.
Another packed house played witness to another classic, but the Cougars got on the board first. Jacob Gilbert beat Christian Cicigoi on a great shot, but the Huskies responded 20 seconds later. Patrick Saini picked up another goal in the Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs, burying a perfect feed from Christian Stevens.
Only one goal was scored in the second, coming from the Huskies very own Payton Schaly. Schaly gave the Huskies their first lead of the night, and in the third the Huskies managed to get another first. Sam Solarino who scored the overtime winner in game two, scored the Huskies first ever penalty shot goal.
Solarino deked out Justin Easter and sent the Huskies faithful into a frenzy. However, the Cougars weren’t going to go away without a fight. Caleb Thompson and Mitch Palandra each scored to tie the game to send it to overtime. Despite the Huskies dominating the match offensively, a bad turnover led to a chance from Andy Reist who made no mistake, ending the game and the Huskies’ season. The golden goal for the Cougars.
The Huskies were devastated following the tough loss, but still managed to relish in a successful debut year. Winning their first ever playoff series against Trenton and finishing the regular season with a record of 33-16-1-4, which was good enough for third in the division.
Haliburton County rallied around the team like never before. Giving each and every player a celebrity feel, the players on the team loved their time in Haliburton County and appreciated the great coaching staff.
“The first season has gone exceptionally well,” said Huskies president and owner Paul Wilson. “I’m so proud of everyone on this team and how they played this year. I’m very excited for bigger and better things to come next season.”
For Huskies leading goal scorer Oliver Tarr, the season was a sum of its parts. Everyone worked hard together to achieve this result and for the Uxbridge native. This season was one of his best and he earned himself a NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division 1 scholarship for Canisius College in New York. Tarr is the first Huskies’ player to achieve a D1 offer.
“I think it was an unbelievable year,” said Tarr. “One of the biggest things is we really put the county on the map. It’s a really good program and gives the players a lot of success. The community really embraced the team and I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better spot to play. We really surprised a lot of people this year, and that’s pretty hard to do when moving to a new town. We dominated a lot of games and I’m really happy with how we played as a team.”
Everyone on the team worked like a well-oiled machine to create this amazing result for both the team and the county. A lot of players became fan favourites, and one of those players was goalie Cicigoi. Coming in and delivering a shutout in his first ever game with the team, the Thunder Bay native was beaming to be able to have the opportunity to play for the team.
“When I first got here I didn’t know what to expect,” said Cicigoi. “The team welcomed me in with open arms, and just building off that chemistry to get a huge win in my first game was amazing. Seeing the crowd reactions was amazing. In [the] playoffs we showed that we have the best fans and, all in all, I think Haliburton [Highlands} is an amazing place to play. Everyone here is awesome.”
Nathan Porter led the way this season as the first ever team captain, and, despite having his best season of his career, the captain will be graduating as an overage player this off season. Capping off his season with a great group, Porter doesn’t plan on quitting hockey anytime soon but does feel he is ready for some downtime with his family.
“It was a dream come true,” Porter said. “It’s tough when you’re playing against teams that have decades of history. It means a lot to do so well. Especially that it’s a lot of our last years in the OJHL, everything came to together and it’s almost surreal. I had so much fun and I think all the guys that come after us will do even better. To sum it up in one word: amazing!”
As the Huskies move into the off season, a new batch of players will join the squad to replace the departing and overage players. Schaly, Cicigoi, Tarr, Porter and Simon Rose will all be departing the team at season’s end, with Tarr, Rose and Schaly having announced their commitments.
Judging by the success in the first year, it seems that the Huskies will be a mainstay for many years to come.