Stakes are high

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

Hockey can be a cruel business.

One day, you're the best in the biz. The next, you're justifying your employment.

Such is the case with Calgary Hitmen GM/head coach Kelly Kisio.

Just last spring, Kisio was lauded as the WHL's top executive.

Less than a year later, he's on the hot seat.

That kind of roller-coaster ride, he says, is par for the course.

"I think any time you're in Calgary, which is such a knowledgeable hockey town, and working with the Flames, you're expected to do well and work hard," Kisio said as his club prepares to open the playoffs in Lethbridge Friday night.

"That's for the players right through to the coaches."

The former NHLer has proven to be one of the most astute GMs in the league.

His track record at the trade table can't be questioned.

He stole world junior star Andrew Ladd from Vancouver for a song. This year, he shored up the goaltending by snatching Justin Pogge from Prince George at the trade deadline.

Where he's being questioned is behind the bench.

Kisio cleaned house after the 2003-04 season, firing coaches Rick Kromm and Bruno Campese after the club finished with 82 points, a 19-point improvement over the previous campaign.

This year, with Kisio and Dean Evason acting as co-coaches, the Hitmen finished with 83 points.

It certainly didn't help The Hockey News had the Hitmen ranked third in the nation coming out of the gates, a projection that clearly wasn't warranted.

Leaving the pressbox to walk the bench was a big risk.

"Sure it was. That's what happens when you throw yourself in the fire," Kisio said.

"Especially where we were rated at the start. Whether it was justified our not is a different story."

Asked whether he feels changes would be forthcoming if the Hitmen fail to make it out of the first round for the fourth time in four seasons, Kisio shrugged his shoulders.

"You'd have to ask Mr. King about that," he said of Hitmen president Ken King.

"But that's hockey. That's the nature of the beast. That's all it is.

"We'll go about our business, do our best and see what happens."

Kisio appears to have the players in his corner.

Winger Andrew Ladd said the club is focused squarely on the Hurricanes and not anything else.

"We can't control what might happen later on but everyone in the dressing room is confident in our coaching staff," Ladd said.

Linemate Ryan Getzlaf, who hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with Kisio, said his boss has done exactly what he said he would do after firing Kromm and Co. for being too soft.

"He knows when he has to lay down the law and take care of things," Getzlaf said.

The club's top scorer said the team is prepared to march behind its leader when the post-season begins.

"He's done a pretty good job with all the stuff that has gone on," Getzlaf said, referring to a rash of injuries.

"We're behind him no matter what happens and we're confident in him as our coach. We're following him as far as this team can go. He's been good. He takes care of issues when he has to and he steps back when he has to. "


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