By Darren Lum
If there was ever a time that a loss could prove to be the impetus to galvanize a team it would be the Haliburton Wolves’ overtime 6-5 loss to the Bracebridge Blues last Thursday at the A.J. LaRue arena.
The Wolves’ fans left disappointed but buoyed by a satisfaction that has eluded the team faithful who have have wanted to see this team fulfill its potential in the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League.
The team showed more than heart as it displayed composure resilience and grit.
It not only out-hustled and outplayed the higher ranked Blues but also played together with conviction as a unit a family.
The team out-chanced the visitors and even led in shots outshooting the Blues 58-38.
Team captain Nick Hunter who played inspired skating and hitting with a tireless effort scored both of his goals (one of them on his back in the crease) in the third when the team was down 4-2 only minutes into the start of the third period.
Hunter also assisted in the crowd hysterics inducing tying goal by Connor Aleksic with a little more than a minute left in regulation.
In the four-on-four five-minute overtime the Blues hushed the boisterous home crowd when they scored the dagger-in-the-heart goal with just 1:40 left ending the roller coaster game.
The momentary silence was broken by a smattering of cheers bangs to the inner boards and the sticks hitting the ice from the appreciative Wolves players as the Blues players left the ice.
Other goals were scored by Zack Thorsen who started it off for the Wolves who fell behind 2-0. Thorsen’s teammate Jayden Southwind followed it up with an equalizer minutes later. Southwind’s quick hands made short work of the Blues’ defence moving from the boards evading his check and sliding it past the visiting goalie to make it 2-2.
Wolves rookie goalie Motoki Watanabe was solid between the pipes in the win.
This game demonstrated the team’s potential to compete and could be what is necessary for a long run in the playoffs. Time will tell.
The game didn’t start well for the Wolves.
Just after the national anthem there were several minutes of delay leaving fans bewildered.
It was related to a protest made by the Blues who informed the on-ice officials of an ineligible Wolves player.
After a phone deliberation between the league and an on-ice official the Wolves’ coach Josh Shaw was ejected from the game for dressing an ineligible player Andres Roy. Rookie coach Shaw said he mistakenly thought Roy was eligible misreading a message. Both subsequently served two game suspensions since the Blues game for the infraction.
With Shaw gone for the game the team’s trainer Jenn Little assumed coaching duties with injured player Ryan Hunter who is gone for the season due to a shoulder injury.
Like the fans Little was impressed by the team’s performance.
“I’m so proud of them for coming together as a team. That’s the best they have played against that team and probably one of the best games they had this season as far as I’m concerned” she said. “I was proud to see them just come together. That’s personally what I’ve been looking for all season.”
It’s unconfirmed but Little may be the league’s first female to have ever coached a game since the GMHL started in 2006.
She wasn’t sure about the historic nature of her related role at the time but said it’s exciting to be the first.
When asked about whether the quality of the game factored in the historical significance.
“It would have been better if it had been a win. But no it was significant that it was a great game” she said.
She didn’t see Shaw’s absence as a cause for the team’s great game.
It boiled down to how much the team wanted to succeed in the game and this season she added.
“They proved tonight that they do want it” she said.
The team’s next and last regular season game is this Thursday at the A.J. LaRue. They will host the Almaguin Spartans.
The playoffs start Feb. 15. Specific team playoff schedules won’t be known until this week.
Since the Sturgeon Falls Lumberjacks have ended operation Haliburton assumed GMHL north division’s seventh place and will not need to compete in a play down to make the playoffs.
As of press time the Wolves will play Coldwater tonight. A win would ensure seventh place for the playoffs and if the team records (as of Friday night) stayed the same the Wolves would play Temiskaming in a best of five (two at Temiskaming two at home and one at Temiskaming if needed).