The championship hangover is a familiar term to all sports fans, used to describe how hard it is for a team to defend its title the following season. The drive isn’t quite the same, players and coaches have left and unfamiliar faces have replaced them, and injuries and lucky breaks have their way.
That’s seemed to overshadow both the Fort St. John Senior Flyers and the Huskies 2018-19 seasons, not that these teams aren’t trying as hard or aren’t as good, but the competition has only increased from last year. For the Huskies, they had to deal with near 50 per cent turnover of players, and even saw two assistant coaches move on, with just one, Cam Weir, taking their place. If getting used to that many new players isn’t enough, the team also dealt with a ton of injuries, at one time losing three of their top defencemen — Jeridyn Loewen, Nathan Bragg, and Ivan Jasbec.
It’s been the same for the Flyers. A couple key players such as Brandon Millen and Jake Ebner moved on. While the team has a lot of talented new faces, it’s been a battle to get a consistent lineup on the road. While this is a regular problem in senior hockey, it’s one that has taken its toll on the Flyers. As well, the team was without its two main goaltenders Travis McLean and Ty Gullickson for much of the first half.
“Everyone goes through turnover, and we had three top guys who went to school, but doing the best we can. We’re still a development league, and some of these new guys are very raw but we’re enjoying the process from top to bottom,” said Huskies Coach Todd Alexander.
Huskies turn it around
It’s that attitude that’s seen the Huskies turn things around to finish off the first half of the season, playing their best hockey and finally looking like a threat to win their second straight NWJHL championship. The Huskies have 33 points, just one behind the Dawson Creek Junior Canucks, and start 2019 with a home game on Jan. 5 against the struggling Sexsmith Vipers, currently in fifth place.
“We always set our team goals at the beginning of the year, everybody has the same ones. You want to have a good regular season with the best opportunity to win in the playoffs by finishing first. If you check that box off, then you want to win the playoffs, and hopefully advance to provincials. We’re working hard toward it but don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Alexander said.
The team accomplished all of those goals last season, who’s to say they won’t in 2019?
“I really enjoy seeing the guys working hard in the gym and in practice, they go out and the games aren’t so hard. The hardest part of our week is our workout because of the pace the boys have been setting and how hard they’ve been on each other,” Alexander said.
Flyers Hosting Coy Cup
The Flyers are in the same boat. They’ve turned it on at the end of the first half, and while they are third in the division, all three teams will make the playoffs. The Dawson Creek Senior Canucks and Grande Prairie Athletics look to be the toughest challenges standing between the Flyers and another Campbell Cup. For Fort St. John, it’s about finishing the final seven regular season games — all in January — while playing their best hockey, so they’re ready to give their divisional rivals hell in the playoffs.
Win or lose in the playoffs, one thing the Flyers can look forward to for sure is the 2019 Coy Cup. Fort St. John is hosting the best AA men’s team in the province for the annual tournament, March 26 to 30, 2019. The Huskies receive an automatic entry, while it remains to be seen which teams will qualify to compete against them.
“I’m certainly looking forward to it. We haven’t hosted that tournament since before my time in 1994. We’re excited to put on a good show as only Fort St. John can,” said Flyers President Paul van Nostrand.
When it comes down to it, both the Flyers and the Huskies are hoping that 2019 looks a lot like 2018. It hasn’t been easy, but they just might be able to pull it off.
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at email@example.com.