While it is still early in the North West Junior Hockey League season, losses were piling up in an ugly way for the Fort St. John Huskies (4-5-1).
A 1-1 weekend provided more than just a glimmer of hope— it appeared to be the flash that assistant coach Todd Alexander had been looking for from his team since day one.
“We just actually put together what we are supposed to be doing on the ice with some of our system play,” Alexander said.
“Our individual skill has been coming along real nice. Now we’re starting to put pressure on the guys to play a lot closer to where our systems are instead of just going to the wall and doing their own thing.”
It all started with a momentum gathering win Friday night against the league’s best team in the Dawson Creek Junior Canucks (8-4).
After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, the Huskies scored three times in the second period, with markers from Adam Bowie, Brandon Howard and Jared Lowen to take the lead.
The Jr. Canucks cut the deficit to one early in the third, but Gary Loewen put the Huskies ahead for good midway through the period to close out the win. Jonny Bateman had a solid performance in net, turning aside 33 shots in the win.
Saturday night in Grande Prairie against the JDA Kings (6-4) was what Alexander called “the best game of the season” for his squad, despite being on the wrong side of a 4-1 game.
“Did we deserve a better fate? Absolutely. Are we going to lose too many hockey games if we played the way we did that game? No,” Alexander said.
“We were absolutely dominant and it was nice to see and we still had more gas in the tank. We were just getting going when the third period came around. There were definitely some things that were a major disappointment on our behalf that was out of our control.”
The Huskies outshot the Kings 43-31, but only a third period goal by Jarod Lang got past Grande Prairie netminder Liam Murphy. Alexander indicated that factors behind his team’s control contributed to the loss Saturday and hopes that momentum from the strong overall weekend play will continue.
“We found another gear for sure. The thing that we were really lacking was we were not thinking the game,” Alexander said.
“We have all the systems being put in place, and you go over the wall and you maybe have two of the five guys on the ice doing what they’re supposed to be doing… our neutral zone was way too open and they were just cruising through and it was putting a lot of pressure on the defensemen to stand at the line.
“Then they have clean entries with attack lanes and our guys are just not able to defend it… all of a sudden we start paying attention, we get into passing lanes, we start checking better and identify layers, and lo and behold we start creating turnovers.”
The Huskies penalty kill, a real sore spot in the team’s most recent slide was perfect on the weekend, Alexander added it was a few simple adjustments that made the difference.
“Just our attention to detail and our head swivel in the slot. Getting over and covering some of the guys that we weren’t picking up before,” he said.
“It’s not like we weren’t recognizing what was going on, we were just in bad position and not able to get to the spots we’re supposed to be. Now we can get to that check and disrupt them on the PK.”
The November stretch for the Huskies will be a friendly one, as they play seven of their eight games in the month at home, something Alexander said just means less excuses.
“We shouldn’t have a lot of excuses this month on energy and travel,” Alexander said.
“You still have to play the games, you still have to go out and compete. If you take nights off, which we learned (early) in the season, we took a night off once and it cost us. We’re upset about that. I like the energy from the guys right now.”
First up will be a date with the Beaverlodge Blades (1-8) on Friday, Nov. 4 at North Peace Arena.