They exceeded expectations. It was supposed to be a bad year for the Fort St John Huskies. A rebuilding year even. They lost guys like Brett Loney and Jeff Shipton. They would be without Jack Christian and Bryce Novak. Brennan Billey didn't play this season and Jordan Shipton missed the second half as well. That's a lot of talent that left the Huskies so who would step up and fill those voids? Kole Norris came out of nowhere to become one of the top offensive players in the league. As did Steve Fast. Cody Kalb and his top line showed they were ready to carry the load as a top line and provided a ton of offense. And additions throughout the year like Cam McKinnon and Cody Hildebrand stepped in and contributed. Not to mention the stalwarts on defense in Captain Jon Spence, Payden Wongstedt and Linden Apsassin.
Luckily no one told the Huskies they weren't supposed to be any good. The year started out a little slow as the Huskies tried to find their identity. They were also trying to find a number 1 goalie. But by Christmas they were rolling and the North Peace Arena was a fortress where good teams not only lost but they got thumped. Zack Blain got better and better as the season went on and really took over the goaltending duties and matured into a very good goalie right in front of our eyes. The Huskies wound up clinching the number 2 overall spot in the league thanks to a great second half and an incredible home record.
In the playoffs they stumbled a little against Slave Lake but mostly thanks to the schedule maker and a bizarre 2 game start on the road despite the Pups having home ice. But they finished Slave Lake off in 4 games and got set for the North Peace Navigators. A team with some history against the Huskies. Again the Huskies struggled at times although in a series that went 7 games the Huskies were maybe the better team in 6 of them. But it took them all 7 games to finish off the Navs thanks to some good goaltending by Zack Blain and one of the best game 7 performances I have ever seen from Dylan Apsassin. That kid is a stud hockey player and his 4 goals and 1 assist in a game 7 was truly impressive.
It may have been this 7 game series that prevented the Huskies from really pushing Whitecourt in the finals. The Wolverines are a team that ditched good local kids in order to bring in studs like Jessie Synatinski, who will be playing Major Junior in Brandon next year, in order to win a championship. It worked, although I know it annoyed some of the local players and fans. The Huskies were maybe the only team in the league capable of pushing Whitecourt in a 7 game series but unfortunately they were never able to get over the hump. A team that had already played 5 games in the last 6 days went to Whitecourt and battled. They really did play their asses off in those two games. There were just times when they didn't seem to have the energy to keep up with the Wolverines. A couple of mistakes and some missed chances and the Huskies were down 2 games to none. They had already won the respect of the Whitecourt fans though for the way they had battled and given it their all. One Whitecourt fan even went out of his way to pop his head onto the bus and tell the guys who much he respected their effort level and determination. It was a pretty cool moment.
Back in FSJ the Huskies looked poor in game 3. All year in games that the Huskies HAD to win, they found a way to get it done. I just think the exertions of the last couple weeks had taken their toll on the Pups and they didn't have the legs. They were still in the game though and they had some chances late in the second to get back into the game with some PP time but couldn't find a way to get it done. An injury to Cody Kalb didn't help either. Cody played despite probably being injured to a point where most other players would have sat out. But that typifies the Huskies. Without such a big part of their offense being at 100 percent though, the Pups weren't able to get anything done on home ice.
Game 4 saw the Wolverines win the NWJHL title on FSJ's home ice. Something I know the Huskies didn't want to see. They didn't go down without a fight though and were right in the game until the 3rd period when Whitecourt pulled away a little. So the Huskies get swept in a series that they played well in but at the end of the day, despite being a great group of guys and giving it all they had, Whitecourt was just the better team. I can't wait til next year.
My playoff MVP's for the Huskies will take a 3 stars format.
This is tough because there are a lot of guys who played well. Zack Blain gets one of the starts for sure. He was excellent and played a ton of hockey. He played all but 1 of the Huskies 15 playoff games.
1st Star- Zack Blain
2nd Star- Cody Kalb
3rd Star- Cam McKinnon
Zack is an easy one. His numbers were excellent, he made some incredible saves and the way he bounced back after a bad overtime goal in game 5 against North Peace showed how much he has matured and what a good goalie he has become.
It was tough to leave Pappin and Dylan out, especially after how good Dylan was in that game 7 and how good Pap was in the first two games of the finals in Whitecourt. But Cody Kalb lead the league in playoff points and was dynamic all the way along. If he hadn't got hurt? Who knows what would have happened on home ice against Whitecourt?
Cam McKinnon stepped up and had a great playoff. He put up better numbers than he had in the regular season and his physical play and penalty killing got him this 3rd star.
Honourable mentions went to Spence (who logs a ton of ice time), Wongstedt (a stud D man who is a game changer), and Kole Norris (who continues to impress offensively).
It was a lot of fun covering this team all year and there are some players who I have come to know a little and I want to thank all of them. The whole team is a group of guys that FSJ can be proud of. And they never gave up. They showed that hard working never say die attitude that we are known for. Dan Pappin get special mention because he is a guy who works all the time. He gives it 100% at all times and does whatever the team asks of him. If he isn't the captain next year I would be surprised.
Also a big thanks to Coach Bob Kalb, Vince Pedersen and Bill Snow and all the staff behind the scenes for helping to make this a great season. It's amazing how much time these guys put in and they do it for the love of hockey and deserve a ton of respect.
Bring on the 09-10 season.