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2023-24 Season Recap | Football

By Reegan MacAulay

While the Holland Hurricanes’ women’s soccer and rugby teams celebrated in the fall of 2023, the football team struggled to gain momentum in the ultra-competitive, Atlantic Football League (AFL).  

The story goes back to 2010, when Aaron MacIsaac joined the Holland Hurricanes’ football coaching staff, right as the program first entered the AFL. The team won the championship in 2011 and would win three more in the next four years. MacIsaac wasn’t there for the later ones but would eventually return to the team as the head coach after the pandemic.

Unfortunately, it’s been a tougher stretch the past few seasons compared to when he first arrived.

“There have been some rougher waters these past three seasons trying to navigate football through all the restrictions which were in place. I do feel that those challenges have helped the team grow and find its purpose. I believe each year, we have gotten stronger as a unit and we have been more focused on the type of student-athlete we are recruiting to attend Holland College,” MacIsaac said.

The team had a short bench through 2021 and 2022 as pandemic restrictions stressed recruiting efforts. Despite the players pouring their hearts and souls into each season, the Hurricanes experienced back-to-back semi-final losses.

“The losses definitely stung. No one likes losing especially when you have set high standards,” MacIsaac said.

Saskatchewan native Parker Orr joined the team in 2022 after a season at Winston Knoll Collegiate in Regina, SK. He proved to be a top defensive back and kick return specialist who transitioned well to the AFL. He recalled how close the 2022 semi-final loss was.

“I feel like as a team we competed very hard that game. Obviously, we came up short, but I think we were a couple big plays away from a win. When it comes down to winning, you have to execute and there were a couple missed opportunities that ended up costing us in the long run,” Orr said.

Heading into 2023, the recruiting efforts saw a major boost – 40 players joined the team, including Brayden Charette, Mitch Spence, Owen MacLeod, and Simon Hales. There were 18 returnees, including Parker Orr, Hunter Prus, Kyle Cameron, and Adam Younker. Things seemed to get back on track.

“It became a great opportunity as well as an intense challenge. Being a two-year program school, we have to connect with our players a lot faster than the other AFL teams,” MacIsaac said.

“We had key returning players who stepped up to help welcome the new guys in. The new recruits brought a ton of football locker room experience with them, and they helped bring the two groups together and built a solid locker room comradery. That gave me huge expectations going into the season,” MacIsaac said.

Orr also had high ambitions, hoping to play a key role for a winning team and step up as a leader.

“I wanted to beat UNB at least once before I left. I prepared all offseason to attempt to achieve this and make sure I was in shape to be the best I could be. I would try to help the rookies understand what we were trying to accomplish defensively to make it easier for them to understand and take the stress of learning a new playbook off them,” Orr said.

One of those rookies was British Columbia’s Simon Hales, who was recruited from the Westshore Rebels football team in Victoria. He decided it would be a great experience to live on the east coast. To prepare for the season, he was constantly lifting weights and on the field.

“I wanted to stay in shape and be the best I could be. My expectations for myself were to be awarded a league all-star and an MVP. As for the team, I was just hoping that we could win an AFL championship since it had been eight years since Holland won the league. It was really easy to fit in considering I made an attempt to reach out to everyone prior to coming here and just build a connection before we stepped on the field,” Hales said.

The 2023 season looked promising as training camp was successful and the team had a bye week the first game of the season, so players had time to focus on fine-tuning things. A hurricane looked to be brewing – unfortunately, literally.

In 2022, it was Tropical Storm Fiona. Last year, it was Tropical Storm Lee. Both times, the team’s first game of the season were cancelled.

“It caused frustration and a lack of focus due to losing out on another home game. All the back and forth on how a makeup game may look took a lot of time as it pulled everyone’s attention away from the task at hand, which was preparing the team to play football. The message was simple; control what is within your ability to control,” MacIsaac said.

Hales was certainly frustrated.

“We worked so hard all camp just to miss out on playing a game, especially a home game in front of our all fans,” Hales said.

The team wouldn’t start the season until Sept. 23 with an away game against the University of New Brunswick (UNB) Reds. Although it was a close match (40-31 score), it was filled with ill-timed penalties and sloppy play. The road trip luck remained foul as the Hurricanes then lost 32-23 against the Dalhousie Tigers. Holland avoided a three-game losing streak with a huge 22-18 win at home against UNB.

Then came a complex and pressuring situation. The Hurricanes held a 1-2 record going into an away match against Dalhousie that was announced as worth four points due to the team’s cancelled season opener. The winner would earn a spot in the AFL Championship Game on Nov. 11.

Sadly, the Tigers put Holland’s season to bed with a 31-9 win. The team entered its last game of the season against UNB at home on Nov. 4 hoping to end on a high note, but despite a huge comeback effort, Holland fell four points short. They finished the season 1-4 (1-5 in the standings after the four-point game was applied).

MacIsaac said the team simply didn’t execute when it needed to.

“Needless to say, going 1-4 did not live up to the expectations I had for the season. I know the team was better than the results show on paper. I will admit that I came into the season with high expectations and was very verbal of them,” MacIsaac said.

Hales said the team, on paper, was championship-caliber, but fell victim to mental mistakes.

“It looked like a championship team with all the talent and experience we had going into the season. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out how any of us planned. We just didn’t play well as a team. There was a lack of teamwork and effort at certain points in games, which allowed the other team to capitalize.

“I was battling an injury throughout the season which caused me to miss the first game. After being on the sideline for that game, I knew I couldn’t do that again. I decided to play the rest of the game regardless of injuries and I was able to make it through and help the team to the best of my abilities. It did limit my performance and I wasn’t able to play my best, but I was happy to just be on the field,” Hales said.

Orr said the record didn’t reflect the steps the team took, and the squad faced a lot of adversity.

“We were continuing to turn the program back to the old winning ways. There were multiple games we let slip away, but at the end of the day, you learn from those losses and that’s how you get better. We got a big home win against UNB which is an example that Holland has the ability to be successful in the AFL.

“Whether it was injuries, lack of field time, or the multiple storms over the course of the season, we were able to overcome it all. We were able to accomplish that by staying focused and working as hard as possible regardless of the circumstances,” Orr said.

Despite the setbacks, Orr and Hales noted how well they worked with their teammates. Orr said there were major progressions with his group of defensive backs, while Hales credited several players who offered great knowledge and experience to the program, including Wolf Sym and Magnus Lam.

Coach MacIsaac said there were many great players who stepped up and stood out during the season.

“Mitch Spence was instrumental in bringing the team together in the locker room and really instilling a phenomenal culture. Mathis Blais made his name known at the collegiate level as a true freshman. Dawson MacDonald, Zach Goodsell, Josh Celso, Connor Winrow, Magnus Lam... They each battled injury at some point and worked through it or toughed it out. I appreciate what all our guys did for the program last year,” MacIsaac said.

One key player that won’t be back is Parker Orr, who committed to the Valley City State University Vikings in North Dakota back in February. MacIsaac said it’s sad to see him go.

“Parker Orr was with us for two years and was a main staple of the defense, and I’m very excited to follow his journey after Holland,” MacIsaac said.

Orr noted many things he’ll remember from his time as a Hurricane. He also thanked his teammates, the coaches and staff for taking the time to make him and his teammates successful, and his parents, Jenny and Clint, for being by his side from the start.

“Getting the win against UNB at home in 2023. It was great to experience the feeling of success in front of the home crowd. I will always remember the team lifts and bus rides. That’s when you get to build a connection and really get to know your teammates. I’m glad I got to be a part of it all.

“It was a great two years working with (MacIsaac). Being able to see the direction the team is headed in, I can’t wait to see what he and the Hurricanes will be able to achieve in the near future,” Orr said.

Shifting gears to the 2024 season, MacIsaac is excited and fueled for what’s to come.

“Competition drives you. I have been coaching long enough to know that there are cycles to a team’s success. I am fortunate to have the coaching staff I do as they are of the same mindset. This year, we will be welcoming a new defensive coach in Jeremy Pike, who will be moving to P.E.I. later this spring and reached out to help coach.

“I’m extremely excited for this year and I’m very confident in the program’s future. Athletics is committed to building football and investing in new equipment and training gear. Coaches have been hard at it in the offseason reviewing playbooks and planning for 2024. We have a great opportunity to turn a corner this year,” MacIsaac said.

Since the program faces much turnover due to one and two-year programs, there are around 35-40 new players expected to join the Hurricanes for the 2024 season. MacIsaac said the quality of recruits coming in will match well with the talent returning.

“The opportunity will be getting them incorporated into the team culture and exposing them to the systems on offense, defense, and our special teams’ philosophy. My goals are to help our senior players get to the point of walking across the stage to receive their diploma and to win the Moosehead Cup.

“The expectations for myself are to continue to evolve as a head coach and progress the culture of the program while embodying the values of Holland College. Fans should be prepared for a dynamic-looking team this year. We have big play potential at every snap of the ball, and we will continue to be punishing. I hope to see more fans in the stands in 2024 as AFL football is high-quality and the Hurricane football is hungry. We are on the way up,” MacIsaac said.

Simon Hales hopes to take on more of a leadership role and be able to use his experience to help the team achieve greatness.

“I’ve been working hard in the weight room with a great group of teammates who all have the same goal, which is to win the championship. In order to be successful, we need to continue to train once school is over. When we all go back home, just keep getting stronger and faster and better on the field. Once we all return back, we need to hold each other accountable and continue to get better as a team.

“I’m excited to be coming back and we are going to put on a show for our amazing fans,” Hales said.

Stay tuned for the 2024 AFL schedule to be released in the coming weeks, at which time Booster Club passes will also be available for purchase.

Connect with the football Hurricanes at www.facebook.com/canesmfootball, www.x.com/canesmfootball and www.instagram.com/canesmfootball.


For more information on the Holland Hurricanes, please visit www.hollandhurricanes.com, www.facebook.com/hollandhurricanes, www.x.com/hc_hurricanes and www.instagram.com/hollandhurricanes.


For more information about this release, please contact:
Daniel Cudmore, Athletics Development and Communications Coordinator
Tel: (902) 894-6870
Date: Thursday, March 21, 2024