By Alex Gallacher
When the 2021-22 season got underway, many of the players were established veterans with a few seasons of playing under their belt. However, for a lot of Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) players they are first year rookies.
One of the rookies shining for the Haliburton County Huskies is forward Nick Athanasaskos. With a total of 13 points (five goals and nine assists), Athanasaskos has been a welcome addition to the Huskies offence with his numbers putting him in the top five for points on the roster.
Starting his junior career with the Toronto Red Wings of the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL), Athanasaskos was originally going to be playing for the Prince George Spruce Kings of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL). However, his plans to go out west were foiled by the pandemic. However, that didn’t stop him from pursuing his hockey dreams elsewhere.
“I was originally supposed to start my hockey career in Prince George,” Athanasaskos said. “It didn’t end up working out, so I made a few calls and coach Ryan Ramsay really wanted me to come to the Huskies. I said, yes, and it’s been going really well, so I’m happy I made the decision.”
With the team being based in a small community, most of the players billet as opposed to living at home. This has allowed the players to spend more time together, a small detail which has helped the team perform even better on ice.
Athanasaskos believes this is the closest he has been with any hockey team he has ever played on, and this has helped his game grow exponentially.
“As a team we like to hang out with each other outside of the rink,” Athanasaskos added. “This is the closest I’ve been with any hockey team I’ve played with and I think the closeness of our group translates to our one-ice success. We know everything about each other. We are a group of brothers who trust and believe in each other.”
Hockey has always been in his blood since he was young, starting to play the game at the age of three after watching his older sister play. After some initial pushback from him, as young kids tend to do when first learning to skate, Athanasaskos fell in love with the game and never looked back.
“When I was about three I saw my older sister playing hockey,” Athanasaskos said. “I got really upset because I really wanted to play, I told my parents and they bought me some skates. The first couple times I hated [it] and kept crying, but my parents let me get a few go’s at it and I fell in love with the game.”
When on the ice, Athanasaskos wears a rather unconventional number: that being No. 91. Hailing from Markham, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, the area has produced some top hockey stars in both Europe and the NHL. Some notable hockey players being Gillian Apps, Bob Beckett and hockey broadcasters Joe Bowen and James Duthie have all called Markham their home at some point.
However, the most famous name is Athanasaskos’ hockey hero and the man who he chose to emulate in picking the number on his back in honour of: two-time Stanley Cup champion Steven Stamkos.
“I grew up in Markham, so I kinda looked up to Steven Stamkos,” Athanasaskos explained. “I had the choice to pick my number and luckily No. 91 was available. With Steven Stamkos being one of my heroes I didn’t hesitate to pick it and it’s been pretty good to me so far.”
Before the season postponement, the Huskies managed to rack up a record of 18-9-1-1 putting them second in the division, which is only two points behind first place Trenton. The season has been packed full of exciting moments for the team from big wins against Trenton and North York, to the team going on two separate five-plus game win streaks.
Athanasaskos offered some of his favourite memories from the first half of the season.
“We beat Trenton twice in their home rink,” Athanasaskos said. “But we also have a lot of fun off ice. We like to go ice fishing and we are currently in the process of making an outdoor rink. Spending time with the guys especially on the bus ride home after a game is a memory that I will never forget.”
With many players using the OJHL as a stepping stone for their next chapter, Athanasaskos hopes he can follow in the footsteps of many league players and sign an NCAA D1 (National Collegiate Athletic Association Division One) scholarship to play hockey for an American university.
“My dream is to earn an NCAA D1 scholarship,” said Athanasaskos. “I still got two years or so to go but I’ve wanted this not just for hockey but for the education side a well. I’m really interested in psychology so I’d love to become a therapist or a sports psychologist outside of hockey if my career ever does come to an end. I always keep that in the back of my mind but hockey is still something I want to pursue.”
Earlier this season, Athanasaskos’ teammate Oliver Tarr signed with Canisius College in Buffalo. Tarr is the first player from the team to sign a college deal. Athanasaskos still has a few more years left to play and he hopes during that time he can impress a lot of schools and improve every single season.
Working under coach Ramsay has been a great experience, whether a game is a win or loss there is always so much passion being put on display each night. Ramsay gave Athanasaskos a shot on the team and the Markham player isn’t taking his chance for granted. Athyanasaskos is giving it his all every night to perform at the high level the coach expects.
“Coach Ramsay has been one of the biggest parts to our team’s success this year,” Athanasaskos said. “He is a coach who is really passionate and it really fuels the rest of the guys on the team. You can really see that he wants to win and that energy is pushed on to us, as a team we are really competitive and having Ryan as a coach he really knows what he is talking about and we learn a lot.”
For Athanasaskos, his experience in Haliburton County has been one he will never forget. While the season isn’t over, he already hopes to return to the team next season. His on-ice play has been some of the best of his career, but Athanasakos does have a very special hidden talent off the ice.
“I can solve a Rubik’s Cube in about 58 seconds,” Athanasaskos said. “So that is one interesting thing that I think most of the fans here don’t know yet.”