Hitmen year a memorable one

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

It won't mend any broken hearts.

But as the disappointment of losing out in the WHL Championship fades over the next few days, the Calgary Hitmen will realize they have much more of which to be proud than embarrassed.

Yes, the Hitmen lost to the Kelowna Rockets, a team that finished 24 points behind them during the regular season.

But the Rockets, one of the WHL's hottest teams over the second half of the season, are a deep squad that also ousted two other powerhouses, the Tri-City Americans and the Vancouver Giants, from the playoffs.

And criticizing the Hitmen after the season they had is like complaining about your supermodel wife leaving her lingerie on the floor.

The 2008-09 edition of the Hitmen could go down as the greatest team in franchise history.

They fell two wins shy of reaching their ultimate goal --a berth in the Memorial Cup -- which the 1998-99 squad was able to obtain.

But there are many other reasons why this team deserves top billing.

Cue training camp, when this was widely regarded as a rebuilding year.

After losing stars like Karl Alzner, Ryan White, T.J. Galiardi and Brock Nixon, the Hitmen were expected to struggle. A playoff spot wasn't out of the question, but a franchise-record 122-point campaign was the furthest thing from anyone's mind.

Rookie bench boss Dave Lowry brought the team together quickly and instituted a system his players followed to the letter.

Martin Jones took over as the starting goaltender and put together the most successful season by a puckstopper in franchise history.

He put up 45 wins during the regular season and followed that up with a spectacular post-season, when the Los Angeles Kings prospect went 14-4.

And the even better news is he'll be back next season unless he's playing for the Kings.

The defensive corps turned into the deepest and most talented group in the league.

Paul Postma established a number of team records while Michael Stone, Alex Plante and Keith Seabrook rounded out an impressive top-four. Seabrook may have been the club's top player in the final.

But Stone, a Phoenix Coyotes prospect, will likely be the only one of the foursome to return next season.

Youngsters Matt Mackenzie, Erik Bonsor and Austin Madaisky will be asked to take a step forward in 2009-10.

There will, once again, be significant turnover up front next season.

Brett Sonne came into the season insisting he could be the team's top centre. He ended up being the league's top player. The world junior star will likely turn pro with the St. Louis Blues next season.

Overage co-captains Carson McMillan and Kyle Bortis have graduated.

Sniper Joel Broda, brought in at the WHL trade deadline, proved his worth by scoring 53 goals during the regular season and another 11 playoff tallies. He'll probably join the Washington Capitals.

Europeans Bostjan Golicic and Tomas Karpov would occupy both an import and an overage spot if they are back.

Hitmen fans can only hope 2009-10 will be another 'rebuilding year.'


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