Yellowknife Flyers and Hay River Huskies renew the Battle of the Big Lake in Northern Hockey Challenge

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The new rink in Hay River has been up and running for close to a year now and there was only one thing missing from the ice.

It was the Northern Hockey Challenge – the Battle of the Big Lake, if you will – and it made a triumphant return to the town on March 2 and 3. The Yellowknife Flyers and Hay River Huskies renewed their rivalry last weekend and it was held in conjunction with a minor hockey tournament taking place at the same time.

Curtis German tries to elude the stick-check of a Hay River Huskies player during action at the Northern Hockey Challenge in Hay River on March 2. Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Curtis German tries to elude the stick-check of a Hay River Huskies player during action at the Northern Hockey Challenge in Hay River on March 2.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

The Huskies got the better of the Flyers in the two-game series, winning both contests 3-2 in Game 1 and 4-0 in Game 2.

Flyers captain Ryan Nichols said it was obvious the Huskies had been preparing.

“They came out flying in that first game,” he said. “You could tell they had a few practices before the weekend.”

The Huskies opened the scoring in the first game on the power-play but the Flyers answered that back to level matters at 1-1. More penalty trouble for the Flyers meant more power-play chances for the Huskies and they took full advantage as they scored two more with the man advantage to take a 3-1 lead. The Flyers got one back in the third and pulled the goaltender to try and find the equalizer but it wasn’t meant to be.

The second game saw the Huskies once again draw first blood. They held a 1-0 lead up until the third period, when they scored two more on the power-play, followed by an empty-netter. Huskies goaltender Connor Goudreau was solid all game as he shut the door on the Flyers.

Nichols said the score may not reflect it but the second game was actually the better of the two for the Flyers.

“We played a much better second game,” he said. “Their goalie played well but we were a much better team in that game. We had some new guys who hadn’t played in the NHC before so it took a bit of time to get used to each other because we don’t all play together in the (Yk) rec league.”

The team was mostly made up of coaches who had made the trip down for the minor hockey tournament with some younger players as well, he added.

As with most big events held in Hay River, it was a noisy, packed house but Nichols said the difference with this event was the fact that there were kids and parents watching in addition to the fans.

“Hay River always supports big events like this but having the kids watching the coaches play was neat,” he said. “It gives them a chance to see that they can play in something like this when they get older.”

This will be the only time the two teams meet this season as there was no time to get free ice in Yellowknife for a return match-up.

Nichols said it would have been a tough ask to try and get something together with March break coming up along with the Canadian North Balsillie Cup and First Air Rec Hockey Tournament approaching.

“We’re hoping to get to the user group meeting in May and try to get a weekend,” he said. “They’re planning on having us back for next season because it’s a big event for them and we want them to come here. They like to travel here to play so hopefully we can work something out.”

On a side note, there was a friendly bet between Mayor Rebecca Alty and Mayor Kandis Jameson of Hay River on who would win. The losing mayor would have to wear the winning team’s jersey for a day and post it on Facebook for all to see.

Mayor Alty lost.

She said it was a tough loss but she knows where to lay the odds next time.

“I hear the younger Yellowknife teams won, so I guess I’ll have to put my money on our future next time,” she said.

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