The Hazelton Wolverines hosted their season opener against the Houston Luckies last weekend and started things off in style with a tailgate party, music and food.
When the hockey got underway, the Wolverines came out looking like a new team and although they fell in the end 9-3, the first two periods had the Luckies working hard.
This year’s team is a diverse mix of veterans and new players and despite the first game loss, several players and the coaches said they felt it was a solid game and they are confident that this season will be a solid one.
There are three new coaches on the benches this year with the return of Ray Sturney as head coach as well as Rodney Harris and Lou Parent.
“We had some guys that really stepped up to help the team and some of these guys won’t be playing when the rest of the team gets out of camp,” Sturney said. “So it was really, really good to have the help when we really needed the bodies.”
Regardless of the loss Sturney said there were a lot of positives in the first game and he knows things will improve each game.
“I thought our goal tending was extremely well and Cody Smith was under a lot of pressure making some really good saves,” he said.
“I thought John David, one of the oldest players in the league, did really well and made a difference. He played smart and is fit and he was a pleasant surprise. Curtis Cardinal is looking good, Mitch Marshall played well, Al Tolmie skated miles for us and all in all, I was quite pleased.
“On defence, I was really happy Jody Giguere who has quick feet and can turn and react well and while it has been awhile sense he played I think he is going to be a really great contributor. Unfortunately, another great player is Cody Stevens but he picked up a groin injury which will most likely have him out for at least two months.”
The bottom line for Sturney last weekend and this weekend is having enough bodies on the ice to give each player the rests they deserve, he said.
“I am a firm believer in having 19 players and I really think we are going to have a full, solid team this year,” he said. “When all the players get out of camp we are going to be a pretty good team and I am looking forward to the winter.”
While Sturney was proud of the team’s overall performance and contributions last weekend he said he was also impressed with Houston.
“The Houston team I was also impressed with as they have obviously made a good effort to get young guys out,” he said. “I think their goaltender got hurt but they might just be a team to watch this year.”
In hockey action on Saturday, Hazelton dominated the first period by playing in the Luckies end for the majority of the opening 20 minutes and with a few minutes remaining, the Wolverines Cody Stevens hammered one in to the twine to give his team a 1-0 lead heading into the second. Things started out end to end again after the first intermission but Houston got lucky and got two quick goals to take the lead. Hazelton pulled a few penalties in the second and the Luckies picked up a two more points before the Wolverines got back on their game to notch one. A bad bounce beat Hazelton’s netminder in the dying minutes of the second to head into the third down 5-2. The final period took it’s toll on the team, with endurance and penalties catching up and while they did manage a third goal, the Luckies went ahead to take the 9-3 victory.
This weekend the Wolves take on one of the new expansion teams, Lac La Hache Tomahawks on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and play Williams Lake Stampeders on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Whether all the players will have returned from work this weekend remains to be seen but Sturney said he is hopeful.
“I think we will still be short handed this weekend but we have six or seven really good players that should be out of camp soon and we should have a really good team,” he said.
In addition to new players and coaches there are also a lot of new incentives for the fans this year with new viewer participation events such as the dirties car in the lot, best dressed fan, the return of Huck-a-puck and the shoot to win and much more.