Hitmen strong again

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, Last Updated: 1:58 PM ET

The Calgary Hitmen lost a goldmine of graduates before the 2008-09 season.

Most expected a drop-off.

The Hitmen have lost some more nuggets as the 2009-10 season starts. Fewer are expecting a drop-off.

Why? Because the Hitmen cruised through the regular season and the initially underestimated team had to be knocked off in an epic Game 6 of the WHL final by the Kelowna Rockets to prevent them going to the Memorial Cup.

"Everyone expected them to be good last year," said Oil Kings play-by-play man A.J. Jakubec.

But not great.

"Most people had them slotted fourth, fifth.

"They're going to be good again. They lost a lot of key guys, but they return with, in my mind, one of the best goalies in the WHL in Martin Jones. They return with one of the best defenceman in the league, Michael Stone. Up front, they've got a 100-point guy -- Brandon Kozun -- back, a tough two-guy in Ian Schultz and Kris Foucault, who really made his name in the playoffs. And they've made some subtle veteran additions.

"I would expect, along with Brandon and Saskatoon, they look like the threats to be big contenders.

"So it's going to be a stiff test (for the Oil Kings) right off the back."

Though prognosticators are taking the "won't get fooled again" stance, there is the possibilty last year's slotting may have just come a year earlier. The Hitmen will also have a new coach in Mike Williamson after Dave Lowry stepped up to the Flames staff.

"Even though they've lost guys again, I don't think anyone is underestimating them. I think most people have them as the favourite in the division, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to that."


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