by Lisa McRitchie on 10/03/11 at 01:00 AM ET
A sunny October Sunday afternoon was the setting for the Calgary Hitmen’s home opener. This team is usually a powerhouse in the WHL and up at the top of the standings. Last year however, the Hitmen found themselves at the bottom of the WHL and now this Calgary Hitmen team is another year older and another year wiser. Their current roster has 2 NHL drafted players, Brooks Macek drafted by Detroit and Victor Rask drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes. The majority of their players are 2012 draft eligible and this is the start of the season that may decide their fates. The team must be in some ways worried that they don’t have a mix of younger players (they only have 1 younger player) on their roster, but I’m sure they’ll never tell you that.
Why is this Oilers’ reporter at the Calgary Hitmen game? The opponents this afternoon are the Kootenay Ice, the team of injured Oilers’ prospect Drew Czerwonka. Although I would not be able to watch the winger in action, I would be able to have a look at how his team looks this season. The Kootenay Ice took the WHL title last and looks to be a slightly different team this year.
The Ice roster is made up of a good range of ages; a few players have already been NHL drafted, several were eligible this past summer, and even more are eligible in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 draft years. Then of course there is the fact, once again, that there are so many NHL draft eligible players on the Calgary Hitmen. Although the Oilers work with the Edmonton Oil Kings, there is always a chance that one of the Hitmen could fill a spot the Oilers see down the road.
The crowd at the Saddledome seemed sparse, but the weather was delightful in Calgary, perhaps parents chose to keep their children outdoors rather than in.
A WHL game in the Saddledome does not lack for crowd interaction. Children are featured on the jumbotron frequently, and by the end of the game, there is never a lack of young boys, under ten years old dancing shirtless and waving their shirts over their head. Intermission contests involving shooting accuracy engage the crowd. The family friendly atmosphere carries forward to the adults in the crowd looking for reasonably priced hockey entertainment. Overall, the entertainment value is high, and it is easy to see why the city of Calgary would support their WHL team.
For this home opener, Hitmen fans got what they hoped for; an entertaining game with fights, hits, falls and a home team win. The Ice held the lead through most of the game, but let off the gas pedal slightly in the third, allowing the Hitmen to pull ahead. An empty net goal in the final minute secured the win for the Hitmen, 4-2.
Calgary Hitmen goals came from Victor Rask, Kenton Miller, Danny Gayle and Brooks Macek, Ice goals from Luke Philp, and Brendan Hurley, but there are so many other story lines behind each team. Alex Roach of the Hitmen participated in the Los Angeles Kings training camp on a try-out basis and was last Monday signed to an entry level contract. Sam Reinhart of the Ice is the youngest of three brothers in the WHL, and all at the same time, as well as son of Paul Reinhart of the Atlanta Flames, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. Sam’s older brother Max was drafted by Calgary in the third round of the 2010 NHL entry draft and also plays for the Kootenay Ice. The middle brother, Griffin plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings and is projected to go early in the first round. These are just a few stories, these and many more will be shared and discovered throughout the season.
I would like to extend a big thank you to the Calgary Hitmen for being excellent hosts. Although Czerwonka was injured, I was able to catch up with the prospect following the game. I was also able to get a few minutes with draft eligible Brendan Hurley, who got the first goal of the game and Sam Reinhart youngest brother of the Reinhart three. Look for these interviews this week on Oil Patch.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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