SUNDRE — The U18 Huskies were firing on all cylinders this weekend in a triumphant performance that led the squad to victory during their first home tournament since the start of the pandemic.
The Huskies hosted seven visiting squads, amounting to nearly 150 players, with the tournament breaking down into an A and B division.
Their first challengers were the Foothills Flyers, who the Huskies faced off against on Friday night during the opening game. The match started off fairly close, said head coach Tony Myram. But by the third period, the squad found its momentum “and opened up,” going on to take and maintain a commanding lead, shutting out the competition with a 9-0 final score.
On Saturday, the Huskies continued to play hard and faced stiffer competition against Rockyford, but still emerged victorious with a tighter spread of 7-4.
With the two wins under their belt bringing them into the A division final on Sunday, the Huskies relentlessly kept up the pressure against the competition from Lethbridge, claiming the tournament’s championship title with an impressive 6-2 final score.
Expressing gratitude to sponsors, volunteers, and fans, Myram said everything came together and went well over the weekend.
“We’re pretty appreciative of everybody who helped put it on,” he said.
The fans who attended and the teams who played seemed focused on one priority — to enjoy the game and make the most of the opportunity to be on the ice.
“Most people that attended were really good about following the health rules that are in place. So, we didn’t have any big issues with that,” he said.
Season to date going well
Meanwhile, the Huskies have had a good season to date right from the start.
“It’s been going good. We have a little bit smaller team, but it’s coming along well,” he said, adding there are about 15 players, down a bit from pre-pandemic averages of around 20.
One of seven teams in their Central Alberta Hockey League division, the Huskies had leading up to this weekend’s home tournament played nine games, along the way racking up a record of five wins, two losses and two ties.
“We’re gelling well and we’re being fairly successful at this point,” the coach said on Jan. 7 ahead of the tournament.
“We’re definitely going to challenge for one of the top spots in our league, we’re hoping.”
So far, the squad has successfully translated what they’ve learned on the ice during practice right into games.
“It’s really exciting to see them grow as a group,” he said. “We’ve got a fairly talented team and we’re very even.”
Having a well-rounded and balanced team has enabled coaches to shift the focus for practices.
“We can work a lot more on team play, instead of focusing on individual skill sets to bring us through games,” he said. “A lot of puck movement, puck possession, puck support — that stuff is what we’re working on primarily.”
Despite the return in September to restrictions coupled with the introduction of the Restrictions Exemption Program after the provincial government had opened Alberta up with promises for a “best summer ever,” Myram said there weren’t any major hurdles or delays getting the season started.
“Everything came online fairly quick,” he said. “We played our tiering rounds, and got right into league play pretty well right on schedule.”
And as news emerged about the rapid spread of the new variant Omicron, initial concerns that the tournament might end up being cancelled fortunately did not become a reality.
“With all that’s going on, we were a little worried about them shutting everything down here on Tuesday (Jan. 4) when the province did their health announcement,” said Myram when asked his thoughts on being able to host the event following such a lengthy hiatus.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t advertise like crazy and pack the barn, as one would say,” he said, adding organizers had to adhere to the chief medical officer of health’s order limiting capacity to one-third of the facility’s fire code.
“We still have to meet the restrictions. But it is nice to put this together because it’s been a couple years coming,” he said. “We’re pretty happy to do this — give the kids a bit of normalcy and kind of bring a little bit of community pride back.”
The coach seemed grateful to the municipality for allowing youth user groups to have access to the arena under the health order without needing to develop an REP.
“We’ve played in a couple of rinks where they do have the REP, and that was nice too because you have full access to the facility,” he said. “Every facility makes their own choice based on their community, and we’re cool with that.”