Bugsy gets due

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

Fitting a guy nicknamed Bugsy was the first Hitmen hero.

He became the first 50-goal sniper, the first 100-point luminary, the all-time leading scorer and only WHL most valuable player.

And it's fitting a guy nicknamed Bugsy will also be the first Hitmen to have his number retired.

To Dean Clark, the Hitmen bench boss through the franchise's climb from the abyss of an expansion club through to its best seasons, including the 1999 WHL crown, there's no better candidate for the accolade than Brad Moran.

"For an organization like ours, trying to battle through all the stuff and find an identity, there's no way we would have done what we did if we didn't have Brad Moran. Not a chance," said Clark.

"That's how important he was to us."

Before Friday's Hitmen tilt against the Red Deer Rebels, Moran -- monikered after the old Chicago gangster George (Bugs) Moran -- will receive the greatest honour the WHL squad can provide.

His No. 20 -- which has not been worn since he last skated on Saddledome ice in the 2000 playoffs -- will be raised to the rafters.

It's an honour not lost on Moran, who's currently skating for the AHL's Syracuse Crunch.

"It makes me feel old but it's nice to know you're still thought of," said the soft-spoken product of Abbotsford, B.C.

"I was so caught off guard. There's nothing that can prepare you for this. It's something you never think about or dream about but you go in other rinks and look at the people up there and realize it's unbelievable."

About time, said four-year Hitmen teammate Chris Nielsen.

"As far as I'm concerned, it should have been done a while ago," said Nielsen, who spent another few seasons with Moran on the Crunch.

"He was there the first five years and started the franchise. If he's not the main reason, he's a big reason we got where we did. There were lots of people who were part of it but he was the go-to guy on the ice."

The pure numbers prove that.

Over five seasons, Moran piled up 204 goals, 246 assists and 450 points in 357 games -- all the most in franchise history. He's third in the league's all-time games-played list, ninth in career goals and 14th in career points.

Had he not been a scratch in the 1998-99 regular season finale, Moran also would own the WHL's consecutive games played mark.

However, Clark points out Moran's contributions to the Hitmen over the club's first five seasons went beyond the scoresheet.

"The way he went about it," said Clark, now GM of the Kamloops Blazers but will be on hand for the ceremony.

"Ryan Shannon was an important part of leadership, Chris Nielsen was an important part for leadership but Brad was the guy who led the way as far as work ethic, humility -- all those things you'd like your own kid to have for qualities -- and everyone followed suit.

"Brad was the barometer for the rest of the guys to keep in check."

In so many ways. As quiet and humble as the soon-to-be 25-year-old is off the ice, he's just as competitive on it.

And that's why somebody who's not big --5-ft. 11-in., 185-lb. when he played junior -- isn't a terrifically gifted skater and couldn't break a pane of glass with his slapper can become one of the best WHLers ever.

Want proof of that competitive nature? Ask Clark.

"I remember one time we were down in Medicine Hat, I think we were down 4-1 and this was that stretch where we beat them 26 times in a row," he recalled. "I believe it was Paul Elliott said something to Brad and Brad went out and scored three goals to tie the game and then scored the winner in overtime.

"I think Paul Elliott might have been on the ice for most of those. That's the kind of guy he was. If you wanted to challenge him, he'd shove it right back at you. He competed so hard and worked so hard. He was a coach's dream."

For all his junior exploits, including winning the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the 1999-2000 MVP, Moran's pro career has been nearly five full seasons in the AHL. He's played five games in the NHL, collecting one goal and one helper.

Clark, knowing his former star captain has toiled in the minors so much, says that's what makes this honour all the better.

"Sometimes in junior we honour guys for what they've done after, when really retiring a jersey like Brad's is more important," Clark said.

"He meant so much to our club and is a reason why we have a championship banner in the rafters and all the division champions.

"He's a reason why we did what we did."

Moran, relished every minute of his lengthy Hitmen career.

"There was the downs and ups. I'll never forget the whole five-year experience and all the great times I had there," he said. "To go through what we did the first two years there made winning that much more memorable, more of an accomplishment to go -- as a team -- from where we were in year one."

All in big part thanks to the man named Bugsy.


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