The Northern Huskies AAA Midget team made Labrador hockey history at the provincial championships In St. Anthony earlier this month. For the first time since the late 80's, a Labrador team won the championship, and will be representing Newfoundland and Labrador in the Atlantics.
Few expected a team from Labrador to win the tournament, especially since they were facing tough teams like Tri-Pen and St. John's. But head coach Brian Lilly knew that the Huskies, which was made up of players from Goose Bay and Lab West, had a chance of winning, but the team would have gel as tournament progressed.
"We played better every shift as the tournament went along, because we only played three games together as a full team all year," says Lilly.
The Huskies had a great round robin, going undefeated in four games. They won three games by scores of 3-1, 7-2, and 4-2. The other game was a 3-3 tie against the powerful St. John's team
The Huskies led the championship game 2-0 after the second period. During the intermission, the team could taste victory, but there were still 20 minutes to go.
"We came in and we laid it on the third year (players). Told them not to win it for the coaching staff, to win it for themselves," says Lilly. "They were highly motivated heading into the third period."
Anyone who has played hockey knows that a 2-0 lead can be fragile late in the game. A lot of teams sit back, trying to defend the lead, and end up letting the opposition tie the game.
"2-0 or 2-1 is hateful. That's what I told them," says Lilly. "I told them we had to play the third period like we were trailing 2-0. I told them not to change their style, not to rest on the two-goal lead."
The Huskies did the right thing in the third period, and kept trying to score. They would be rewarded with two more goals and take a comfortable 4-0 lead.
But St. John's showed a lot of fight and scored two of their own, causing the Huskies bench to feel a bit more uncomfortable.
"When they scored two quick goals we got a bit nervous," says Huskies' defenseman Reilly Farrell. "All of us just tried to get it back, stay positive, and swing momentum back our way."
The Huskies responded by scoring one more goal to ease the pressure, and went on to win the championship game 5-2. It took a while for the reality of the win to sink for the players.
"It didn't really hit many of us until later on that day; that we were going to Truro for Atlantics," says Farrell.
Like most underdog teams, the Northern Huskies would need timely goaltending and great defense, and that's actually what they received. The team gave up just10 goals in the five games.
Having two good goalies is key in the AAA tournament. The rules dictate that teams must give both goalies equal time during the four round robin games. According to Reilly Farrell, the duo of Jeremy Payne and Jonathan Foss were game savers between the pipes.
"In my opinion we had the two best goalies in the tournament," says Farrell.
The Huskies also put on a surprisingly impressive display of offense throughout the tournament, scoring 22 goals in the five games.
Brandon Hillier, a second line forward, was the team's goal scoring star, racking up six goals during the tournament. But there were many players who also had multiple goals, and provided a consistent scoring threat
Lilly gave a lot of credit to his team's first line of Devin Costello, Brett Lilly, and Andrew Jackman, who had the difficult task of playing against the opposition's best players.
"I was proud of our first line. We matched them up against the first line against every other team this weekend," says Lilly.
Now the team has an off ice challenge ahead of them. The Huskies need to raise $35,000 before they head to Truro, Nova Scotia for the Atlantics, which starts on March 21.