For the first time in three years, Halifax has a junior A team making a legitimate push for the playoffs.
The Halifax Lions, tied for third in the Bent Division with a 19-19-4 record, are entering uncharted territory as the Maritime Junior A Hockey League season winds down.
Not only are the Lions inching closer to bringing playoff hockey back to the Forum, they have already surpassed their combined win total of just 16 from the past two seasons.
“We’re getting there,” said Troy Ryan, who took over as the Lions’ head coach and general manager last summer. “We still have a long way to go. But to be in the position we are, we’ve got to take the small successes and enjoy them.”
The last Halifax-based team to make the playoffs was the Wolverines in 2006-07. They missed the playoffs in 2007-08 before moving to Bridgewater, while the Lions didn’t make the cut in 2008-09 after relocating from Antigonish.
The Lions, who host the Yarmouth Mariners tonight at 7:30 p.m., have eight games to go and can clinch a playoff spot by finishing in the top three. If they finish fourth or fifth, they’ll need to go through a best-of-three play-in series.
The Lions and Bridgewater Lumberjacks each have a four-point edge on the fifth-place Amherst Ramblers.
Ryan said the Lions have reestablished themselves and strengthened their reputation by graduating four players — Andrew Wigginton, Bradley MacDonald, Stephen Woodworth and Ian Saab — to the QMJHL this season.
“It’s about developing guys to get to a higher level and it shows we’re not a dead-end for players,” Ryan said. “Next year, with our track record, I can’t imagine having difficulty convincing 16- and 17-year-old kids to join our program.”