Hitmen only game in town

TODD SAELHOF, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 7:01 AM ET

Hockey is still alive in the city. Just ask the hometown Hitmen, the junior team trying hard to make the most of a season without the Stanley Cup finalist Calgary Flames.

The young guns -- aged 15 to 20 -- have gained a following that's made them the most well-attended hockey team in North America this season.

Filling the Saddledome with an average of about 9,200 fans per game, including new blood like Dave Kasaboski, means the Hitmen are making the most of the void left by the Flames and a locked-out NHL.

"It would be nice to have the Flames back, but the Hitmen are a good substitute," said Kasaboski, who was flanked at yesterday's junior game by his puck-loving kids, Scott and Ashley.

"This is a good brand of hockey."

Attendance surpassed the 12,000 mark over the weekend, although the team's director of business operations, Kip Reghenas, said the increase isn't necessarily due to the NHL's woes.

"It's been building from the end of October," Reghenas said.

"Where we'll really see if the NHL's problems have an impact on us is in the first round of the playoffs, when traditionally we've had soft crowds."

In hopes of selling out the 18,000-seat Saddledome, Reghenas said the Hitmen will continue the aggressive and family-oriented approach they've had in place all season.

The need for a hockey fix has also brought many Flames fanatics to the junior fold, including Brad and Brock Mitchell.

"We like them because we're hockey fans, and they give us at least some hockey to watch," said 11-year-old Brad, whose sentiments were echoed by eight-year-old brother Brock, a fan of any Calgary team.

And what do the Hitmen themselves think?

Being the city's No. 1 team has given star forward Andrew Ladd and his teammates added incentive. "It's nice to have big crowds at home, so it's nice to be in the spotlight -- I definitely think it's got us excited," Ladd said.


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