The Newcastle Northstars’ tightrope walk to the Australian Ice Hockey League play-offs is about to become a whole lot wobblier when another key player leaves the club.
The two-time defending champions lost defenceman Felix-Antoine Poulin last week after the Canadian signed with Slovakian club MsHK Zilina.
The 26-year-old was the leading scorer in the AIHL when he exited, but Newcastle overcame that setback to beat the Sydney Bears 7-4 on Sunday and keep their slim finals hopes alive.
But they are about to suffer another body blow when fellow Canadian Kale Kerbashian returns home after 10 games at Newcastle.
Kerbashian tallied seven goals and 18 assists for the Northstars, who signed him as an injury replacement for fellow import Matt Marantz.
“He’ll be heading back to his pro career,” general manager Garry Dore said.
“We convinced him to stay for an extra three weeks, but he’s now heading back.
“We’ve been very grateful that he’s been here with us. He’s a great hockey player, and we hope he’ll come back and join us next year.”
The Northstars have two games away from home this weekend against AIHL leaders the Melbourne Ice then four consecutive home matches to finish the season. They are four points behind fourth-placed Melbourne Mustangs and now without three of their five imports.
Marantz and captain Bert Malloy are in doubt for this weekend’s road trip with shoulder injuries.
Dore said it was good for the club and the AIHL that Poulin could secure a contract in the Slovak Extraliga, the fifth best league in Europe.
And coach Andrew Petrie said on Sunday that the high-scoring defenceman’s departure could free up his forwards to focus more on scoring themselves, and that seemed to be the case in the win over the Sydney Bears.
But making the finals with such a depleted squad would be nothing short of miraculous for the Northstars, who also lost exciting forward Zane Jones for a large part of the season.
“We’ve been hit pretty hard with injuries this year. It’s been one step forward, two steps back,” Dore said.