The playoff run for the Pennsylvania Huntsmen ended last weekend at the hands of the New Jersey 87s. The Huntsmen lost 4-2 and 6-3 to end their inaugural season.
Of course, the perfect ending to any season is a championship, but lets look at things from a wider perspective. This team was two wins away from heading to Providence, Rhode Island for the Frozen Finals. The Huntsmen hit the ice for the first time over the summer for training camp, with players who had zero experience in junior hockey and a first time head coach. It’s very hard to set the standard in the first year for a new organization. There are so many questions that need to be answered, and it all happens on the fly. Yes, on the ice, you want to win, but the focus from the beginning for this team was culture. The organization wanted to establish a strong culture. Skill can be developed, systems can be learned, but without a strong positive culture in the locker room, the result will never meet expectation. Like any season, there were ups, and downs, but overall the players bonded and it was a great season. The Huntsmen finished 2nd in the division and 7th overall, and made it to the 2nd round of the playoffs. The Huntsmen made an impact in year one and have a bright future. Next season there will be an EHL and an EHLP team skating out of Power Play Rinks.
It was an incredible season that came with plenty of memories and the players reflected on their time with the Huntsmen this year.
“It was a lot of fun; it was like a roller coaster,” says Cody Draves. “It was a brotherhood and a family. Playoffs were my favorite part because it was way more serious and intense. I love these guys. I’ve never been on a team this close before and it’ll definitely be in my memories.”
“I wouldn’t trade the time I had playing for the Huntsmen for anything else,” says Max Finkeldey. “I couldn’t have asked for a better team, better family, better coaches. The regular season was a little slow run for me, but I couldn’t have asked for a better playoff finish with the points I got and recognition I got from others. My favorite part was winning the first series of the playoffs. Scoring my first goal will never go out of my head. Everyone was excited, but I don’t want to pinpoint too many because overall it was a great season. I’m going to miss the family aspect the most. I’ll miss joking around, having fun and hanging out before and after practices with the boys and coaches. It was never seen as a job, but it was seen as a family.” Finkeldey certainly had a season to remember, and he's not done just yet. “I was planning to go over to Europe, but with the playoff run it turned to the college direction as coaches have reached out and asked me about next season. I have a bunch of schools I need to go visit this summer and see how it all works out. I’m planning on staying in the US and playing to the highest level I can get to.”
So the last question for Max had to be … which do you like better, roller hockey or ice hockey? (Laughs) “I’m never going to pick. I grew up playing roller and because of roller I'm able to do what I can on the ice, so I can’t pick one. I have equal love for both. There’re somethings that I like in roller more than ice, and vice versa.”
“I didn't have a great attitude when the season started but I was welcomed with open arms,” says Ryan Arendes. “Right away there was a bond that I could tell wasn’t going to be broken. We all went through so much and really built a family. One of my favorite moments was Carson’s (Barrett) comedy show on the bus, he could do standup for a living. Seeing Fink (Max Finkeldey) score his first goal, that was insane, and everyone was going crazy. I’m going to miss the guys, and going out to eat after practice, it was just a bond you couldn’t break. If you were ever down, someone was always there to pick you up.”
In any inaugural season, there are plenty of firsts, and that even carried over to the coach. Head Coach Blaise Kilroy learned a lot this year and gave us his thoughts on the season.
“We did very well considering we were all rookies including myself and the whole organization. We handled adversity well. There's a lot to improve on and with a year under my belt, and having returners who know how I coach and how the organization runs, I think it’ll only go up from here. Some of my favorite moments, of course the first win with Canestra scoring in the shootout, the Showcase in New Hampshire against the Rangers and Railers. Aside from wins, and losses, I’ll miss being around the boys every day. I’ve learned a lot this season. I’ve learned that communication is huge, whether its coaches to players or coaches to coaches, it is a huge part of all of this. It was fun growing as a coach while these players are growing from boys to men. It’s my first time as a coach and I’ll never forget it, I mean there’s a kid from Africa on the team.”
Now the season is over, but the work continues. ID Skates and tryouts for next year are approaching soon. It’s not completely the same, but with an EHL Team coming for the Huntsmen it’s kind of like another “first” season ahead. Blaise Kilroy will return as the EHL Premier Coach next year along with forwards Jacob Chow and Caden Latshaw and more could possibly follow. Climbing the ladder of development and moving up to the EHL team, forward Ryan Arendes, and defenseman Tucker Miller. The EHL Team will be coached by Matt Reid, who had played at the professional ranks and has even coached in the EHL, as an assistant with Team Maryland. The process of recruiting and scouting is well underway. GM Zach Overholtzer, Kilroy and Reid will be travelling a lot in search of talent. In the blink of a eye, training camp will be here and it will all begin again. The future certainly looks bright in Exton, Pennsylvania.
By: Joe Sindoni
Play by Play Announcer