White Mile smiles

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:39 AM ET

LETHBRIDGE -- Outside the arena, thousands of jersey-clad fans meandered through the beer tent, danced to live music, lined up for face paint or just plain soaked up the brilliantly setting sun. Those frustrated by several years of borderline hockey devoid of playoffs took turns taking sledgehammers to a car riddled with opposition logos.

Others waved car flags and high-fived strangers and neighbours as they passed.

Sound vaguely familiar?

Wait, there's more.

Inside, they were handed white towels to match their shirts in a spontaneous re-ignition of community spirit dampened by more than a year of national ridicule via Dar Wars.

With the stage set for a celebration sure to spill into the streets, there was just one thing preventing the locals from finding out if indeed Mayor Magrath Dr. or some other thoroughfare could be transformed into the White Mile: The Calgary Hitmen.

Leave it to the biggest little surprise of the WHL season, Colton Yellow Horn, to find out.

"That feels amazing," said the tiny pride of Brocket, Alta., when asked if he realized how many thousands of Windy City residents he sent partying into the night with his late, game-winning goal.

"Right from the start, that crowd was awesome -- behind us all the way. We had a big boost of confidence and now, well, we just had to calm down."

On the tail end of a tight-checking playoff opener setting a brilliant tone for the first-round north/south series, it was Yellow Horn who played the hero on a night that threatened to turn sour late in the second when Tyrel Lucas put the Hitmen up 1-0 after a goaltending gaffe by Aaron Sorochan.

What followed was a wild finish that saw the home team stage a dramatic third period comeback ending with a 2-1 win.

The White Mile's location was a mystery to Mark Olafson.

"It could be right here, outside the arena," said Olafson, who got the Canes back in the game early in the third with a weak shot from the sideboard hash marks that found the twine. "If the city gets behind us enough, like they did tonight, this could be something really special. This is a special team."

Citing the Flames playoff run that had Lethbridge awash in red just like Calgary, Olafson admits he too was caught up in the frenzy that may soon play itself out in a smaller version here.

"I was going nuts -- crazy," said Olafson. "Everyone had a car flag and got into it, including me."

With five minutes left in the third, it appeared the party here had officially started when a terrible call handed John Lammers a penalty shot following a clean footrace with Hitmen defenceman Karl Azner.

With the crowd of on 5,234 on its feet, Hitmen 'tender Justin Pogge used his right pad to quiet the gathering, if only for a minute. It was then Yellow Horn capitalized on a bad Hitmen bounce and roofed the winner.

The penalty shot miss didn't bother 'Canes coach Lindsay Hofford.

"On a penalty shot you're not going to score normally anyway but we bounced back and it didn't affect us -- that's a good sign," said Hofford, whose relatively inexperienced troops responded well to the crowd's euphoria early on.

"It's a carnival-like atmosphere, which is what the playoffs ought to be. I think it's huge for the community because it's a community-owned team. It's good to see everyone in white."

Good to see them heading out to the White Mile, too. Wherever the heck it ended up being.


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