After a prolonged road trip, Hay River hockey squads were back on home ice from April 20 to April 23.
In the first non-Arctic Winter Games hockey tournament held at the rebuilt rec centre since its demolition nearly two years ago, returning peewee and bantam players showed no signs of rust in their pursuit of pocketing some hard-earned hardware.
A spirited bout between peewee teams the Hay River Huskies and the Fort Smith Hawks kicked off the final day of the weekend-long tourney, with the teams going head to head for the up-for-grabs bronze medal.
Fort Smith came out strong, with Benjamin Mitchell netting an unassisted goal in the first four minutes of the game. Hay River’s Reese Leonard responded late in the first period, setting the stage for a dominant Huskies’ performance in the second and third periods.
Hay River’s Conor Wilkins added to the Huskies mounting lead in the second. Third period goals from Theron Mabbit, Teddy LaFleur and Alex Hubert sealed the deal for the Huskies, as goalie Owen Pettipas stood tall between the pipes to hold Fort Smith to a single goal.
The Huskies’ Mabbit, who notched an assist along with a goal in his team’s 5 to 1 victory, was named player of the game.
The tournament’s final Bantam match between the Hay River Huskies and the Peace River Sabres saw big crowds, big hits and big numbers on the board for the visiting squad. Peace River opened the scoring with an early goal in the first, answered minutes later by Hay River’s Kaden Beck. Lorin Durocher gave the Huskies’ a one goal lead before the Sabres evened things up in the dying minutes of the first period.
The Huskies’ initial surge didn’t translate into the remaining periods, as they were held scoreless while Peace River ran away with the game in the second and third, netting another five goals to defeat the home team by a score of 7-1.
Hay River’s Layne Leonard was crowned player of the game. Huskies’ coach Rodney Beck said there were a number of worthy candidates on the roster.
“It’s hard to pick one MVP, I could have given it to multiple players at multiple games. They all worked as a team considering they hadn’t played together in two years,” said Beck. “I was really proud of them.”
Despite the loss, Huskies’ player Evan Harris said he’s happy to be back playing on home ice, recalling the void the absence of the arena left for almost two years.
“(The community) felt empty,” he said, adding he had to resort to playing other sports like soccer while he waited for the new hockey pad to be built.
Theron Mabbit, the Peewee Huskies’ player of the game, said the two-year drought meant no indoor practicing – a roadblock Bantam coach Rodney Beck said he’s glad the hockey community has overcome.
“Playing on the back rink when it’s 30-below was pretty hard to get the kids out and motivate them. It’s a whole different hockey game than being in an arena setting,” he said.
“It’s really enjoyable. It’s a really nice facility.”