Lit­tle play­ers, big crowd 15,000 are ex­pected to watch the home­town pee­wee Huskies take on Que­bec squad

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - SCOTT RADLEY

He’d barely made it back to the dress­ing room af­ter his team’s nail­bit­ing open­ing night shootout win when it dawned on him what might be up next. Quickly, he grabbed his iPhone to check the sched­ule.

Yup. In their sec­ond game of the Que­bec Pee­wee Tour­na­ment, the Hamil­ton Huskies would be fac­ing the home­town Que­bec Rem­parts. A re­ally good team that had drawn a pretty fair crowd for its first game.

“There were 12,000-plus there,” Hamil­ton head coach Chris Travale al­most whis­pers, sound­ing more than a lit­tle bit in awe of the whole thing. “It was a lit­tle bit sur­pris­ing.”

There will al­most cer­tainly be more than that cheer­ing on the home side Wed­nes­day evening. The num­ber could hit 15,000, which is roughly how many fans the Huskies have ever skated in front of in their en­tire lives if you add them all to­gether and then mul­ti­ply the to­tal by two or three.

This may be some­what mind­blow­ing for a game in­volv­ing 12year-olds. Then again, this is the most-pres­ti­gious youth hockey tour­na­ment in the world.

Teams are here from the Czech Repub­lic, Slo­vakia and ev­ery cor­ner of North Amer­ica. Wayne Gret­zky played here. Mario Lemieux played here. Guy Lafleur played here. Eric Lin­dros played here. This list goes on.

Then again, this is the rea­son they came. Get­ting a taste of the bigleague buzz that comes with a full house is ex­actly what they wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence when they ap­plied for en­try. “I think it’s re­ally a great op­por­tu­nity for the kids to be in that en­vi­ron­ment,” Travale says.

That said, the Huskies are a very, very good team and came to Que­bec hop­ing for more than just a big crowd. So far this year, they’re 263-3 in league play. They say they want to win the whole thing. Even when they drew the top team from Illi­nois in the first round, the coach wasn’t wor­ried.

Still, he was aware of how big a mo­ment it was for his boys. Be­fore they stepped out onto the ice for their first game at the Cen­tre Videotron — the brand-new arena built in hopes of attracting an NHL team to the city — he chan­neled his best Gene Hack­man rou­tine from the movie “Hoosiers”; specif­i­cally from the speech in which the small-town team is about to play in the big­gest arena in In­di­ana in front of a mas­sive au­di­ence.

“There’s still two nets out there,” Travale told them, not sure if he was be­ing con­vinc­ing. “It’s still 200 feet long. It’s just the same as Che­doke Arena.”

OK, not ex­actly the same. But some­how they seemed to buy it. Af­ter the na­tional an­them, the nerves dis­ap­peared quickly — Flo­rian Xhekaj scored twice for Hamil­ton — and didn’t re­ally ap­pear un­til the Huskies found them­selves tied 2-2 af­ter over­time.

That’s when goalie Ja­cob Koutny re­al­ized he’d never been in a shootout be­fore.

“The whole crowd is watch­ing the shooter and the goalie,” he says.

Once Justin De­zoete and Pa­trick Thomas scored, it came down to the final shot for Illi­nois. The shooter deked left, Koutny did the splits and, at full stretch, he got his toe on the puck. Hamil­ton won 3-2.

“I just got up and all the nerves were gone,” says the Grade 7 stu­dent at Strata Montes­sori in An­caster.

Since Satur­day’s win, the Huskies have had a cou­ple ex­hi­bi­tion games which have only bol­stered their con­fi­dence. They beat the Chicago Young Amer­i­cans — the fifthranked team in the United States — 3-2 and then tied the third-ranked Florida Al­liance 1-1.

Travale says if they can beat Que­bec on Wed­nes­day at 6 p.m., they’ll likely face St. Louis next, which is the team to beat in the whole thing. But get­ting to that game won’t be easy. Not with that many peo­ple watch­ing them play. And al­most all cheer­ing for the other team.

“I think it’ll be a bit less nerve-rack­ing (than last time),” Koutny says.

Less nerve-rack­ing? In front of 15,000 peo­ple? Re­ally?

That’s when he men­tions he’ll be the backup for that one. He’ll be on the bench while Ri­ley Ge­orge takes over in the crease.

So yeah, prob­a­bly a lot less.

sradley@thes­ 905-526-2440 | @radley­atthes­pec Spec­ta­tor colum­nist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show week­nights from 7-9 on 900CHML


Ja­cob Koutny of the Hamil­ton Huskies stretches to stop the final Team Illi­nois shooter to win a shootout at the Que­bec Pee­wee Tour­na­ment.

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