Hitmen make it look easy

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:37 AM ET

They say the Memorial Cup is the hardest trophy to win in the hockey world, a testament to how difficult it is just to score a berth in the prestigious tournament.

For the other invitees, the scary part is the Calgary Hitmen made it look easy.

With a 4-1 win over the visiting Tri-City Americans Friday night at the Saddledome, the Hitmen claimed their second Western Hockey League championship and booked a trip to Brandon for the Memorial Cup.

“It was far from easy,” insisted Hitmen blueliner Zak Stebner.

“At times, it was pretty tough. But we battled through it. A little adversity never killed anybody.”

If anything, the adversity helped.

The Hitmen join the host Brandon Wheat Kings and OHL champion Windsor Spitfires in the tournament lineup, while the Moncton Wildcats and Saint John Sea Dogs continue to battle for QMJHL bragging rights.

Anything can happen at the weeklong tourney, especially in the one-game, winner-take-all final, but you have to believe the Hitmen are feeling pretty darn good about their chances in Brandon.

Why wouldn’t they?

Since digging a 3-1 hole against the Moose Jaw Warriors in the opening round, the so-called Hitmen playoff train has been steamrolling everything in its tracks.

Mike Williamson’s squad eliminated the Medicine Hat Tigers in six games in the second round, then stunned many junior insiders by making short work of the Wheaties in the Eastern Conference final, rolling to four straight victories after losing the opening game.

With a convincing five-game series victory over the Tri-City Americans, they made official what has seemed like a certainty since the puck dropped on the final series.

They’re the best of the West.By a wide margin.

The Hitmen haven’t suffered back-to-back defeats since late March. They’ve won 15 of their past 19 outings, dating back to the fifth game of the Warriors series, and they’ve lost only two road games during that span.

As his teammates paraded around the Saddledome ice with the Ed Chynoweth Cup held high, Hitmen co-captain Ian Schultz stopped just short of thanking the Warriors.

“I think that was kind of a wakeup call in the first series,” Schultz said. “We didn’t want to get behind the eight-ball like that, but good teams find ways to win and that’s exactly what we did.”

Question is, can they find a way to win a few more?

Right now, it’s hard to imagine the Hitmen are capable of playing much better. That’s not the way the players see things, though.

“I know that’s not the best we can play,” Stebner said.

“A week from now, we’ll have to step it up again against some good teams in Brandon. There’s always room for improvement.”

“We’ve been playing pretty well,” agreed sniper Joel Broda. “But I still think there’s one more level we can get to and hopefully, we can reach that at the Memorial Cup.”

For the rest of the Memorial Cup hopefuls, that’s a scary thought.


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