When the Fort St. John Huskies beat the North Peace Navigators 5-2 on March 21 to claim their first Senator Cup since the 2006-07 season, it was the culmination of a culture change in the organization that’s been ongoing for years.
Following the 2007 season, current Huskies head coach Todd Alexander and his father Gary Alexander stepped away from coaching duties with the Huskies for four seasons. They started coaching again in the 2011-12 season and this year was their seventh year back. General Manager Jeremy Clothier has been in his position for six-and-a-half seasons, and said it took the team a little longer than he and the Alexanders expected to return to a winning culture, but the hard work finally paid off.
“It was a long road back here and it’s a fantastic feeling to lift the cup with my dad again. These kids are phenomenal,” Todd said.
Clothier said that when he first became involved with the club, the players had an attitude of work first, hockey second. Now, even though the large majority of the team’s players worked this winter, they are dedicated to the organization, making sure they have the time off to attend practices and games.
“Winning this year was a relief. There were some tough times with the team when we played a whole season with 11 or 12 players, and now we have 23 going every night. The guys want to be at the rink,” Clothier said.
But it’s more than just a culture change that led the Huskies to winning the Senator’s Cup. They were a team with lots of experience. The Huskies made the NWJHL semi-finals the last four seasons, but lost every time, twice to the Navigators. Captain Jarod Lang and assistant captains Joshua Robinson and Shawn Wilson were part of the last three semi-final teams, and finally won it all in their fourth year with the Huskies.
“I’m just excited, a couple of these boys have been trying for so long. To finally have it happen, it’s a dream come true,” Lang said.
Alexander is glad the long-tenured players have finally been rewarded.
“Those guys have had a heck of a run here. They got to see it when we were at the bottom and are now at the top. They deserve it, they put a lot of time and effort in, and are a big part of what the culture is around here.”
The Huskies finished third in the NWJHL standings in 2016-17, with 17 wins and 37 points. This season, the Huskies were first with a 27-7-2 record and 56 points, a huge jump in just one year. That increase in wins is more impressive considering that, outside of the addition of Darion Fay at the trade deadline and Zak Babin before the playoffs, the Huskies roster is made up of largely the same players it was a season ago.
Jeridyn Loewen, Nathan Bragg, Cody Brodhagen and Joel Bourgeois all played their first full season with the team this year.
“The big difference is we were young before. Most of our kids were 18, in their first year out of midget. Now, they’re all mostly 19, more mature and have been through a full season of junior and know what it takes,” said Clothier.
Lang said depth played a key role in the team’s success this year, too.
“We’ve had guys go down with injuries throughout the year, and having that next guy step up helped us get rolling and be deep throughout the lineup,” he said.
Four of the Huskies’ best players — Sebastian Powsey, Robinson, Lang, and goaltender Jonathan Bateman — all missed time in the playoffs, and yet the team won, and was dominant in doing so, anyway.
“We just take things one shift and one day at a time and that really helps us throughout the year, not being too high or too low. Our mental strength throughout the group has helped us,” said Lang.
The Huskies NWJHL championship win is one of many impressive accomplishments by Fort St. John hockey teams this season. The Senior Flyers won the NPHL Campbell Cup, and the NEBC Trackers won the NAHL’s Bouchier Division and the bronze medal at the Midget Tier 1 B.C. Hockey Championships. With the Hockey Alberta Junior B Provincials beginning in Fort St. John on Thursday, the Huskies could add another one to the list.
“I couldn’t be prouder of everything that’s gone on this year in hockey in Fort St. John. All these guys are good hockey players, are great people, and will go on to do great things in life,” Alexander said.
PROVINCIALS BEGIN THURSDAY
The Huskies will compete at provincials in group B, along with the Wainwright Bisons, Wetaskiwin Icemen and the Coaldale Copperheads. The Bisons won the 2017 provincials.
“Our coaching staff will be very prepared, and we’ll be ready to go. We’ll be right there with every team this weekend,” Clothier said.
HUSKIES PROVINCIAL SCHEDULE
Opening Ceremonies: Thurs., March 29, 7:00 p.m.
Game 1: Coaldale Copperheads @ Huskies, Thurs., March 29, 8:00 p.m., North Peace Arena
Game 2: Wainwright Bisons @ Huskies, Fri., March 30, 4:00 p.m., North Peace Arena
Game 3: Wetaskiwin Icemen @ Huskies, Sat., March 31, 12:00 p.m., North Peace Arena
Semi-finals: TBA @ TBA, Sat., March 31, 8:00/ 8:30 p.m., North Peace Arena and Pomeroy Sport Centre
Final: TBA @ TBA, Sun., April 1, 2:00 p.m., North Peace Arena
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at email@example.com.