Little players, big crowd 15,000 are expected to watch the hometown peewee Huskies take on Quebec squad
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.
email@example.com 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.