Hitmen rookie just happy to be here

SCOTT FISHER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

For most rookies looking to crack the Calgary Hitmen lineup, hockey is everything.

But one freshman understands it’s just a game.

A game he’s very good at, but a game all the same.

Chase Clayton, the club’s top draft pick in the 2009 bantam draft, is counting his lucky stars he’s even at the WHL club’s rookie camp.

The speedy centre played with the AAA midget Fraser Valley Bruins last season.

In December, during a road trip from Abbotsford to Prince George, the team bus skidded off the highway and tumbled down an embankment.

“I was definitely getting ready to say my good-byes to everyone,” Clayton said of the accident that sent 21 of the 24 passengers onboard to hospital.

“I had my eyes open long enough to see it in slow motion — people flying, luggage flying.

“It was a real scare. I just prayed that I was going to make it through.

“I’m glad, because now I get to be here.”

One player suffered a broken collarbone; another suffered serious head and facial injuries but has since recovered. Clayton said he escaped the ordeal relatively unscathed.

“I was sitting up and paying attention,” the 16-year-old said. “I felt the bus swerve and I heard our coach say ‘hold on.’

“I knew I couldn’t hold onto the head rest or it would come right off, so I held onto the base of the seat in front of me.

“I managed to hold on through the flips. On the last flip, I fell and hit my back. But I walked away untouched, just a sore back.”

The Bruins had difficulty overcoming the incident and posted an 18-20-2 record.

Being part of a losing team was something new for Clayton. And it’s something he didn’t enjoy.

“I’ve never had that experience before,” he said. “There were some guys who didn’t have their hearts in it.

“You’d see guys joking around after a loss. It wasn’t great to see.”

Clayton put up 11 goals and 26 points 32 games with the Bruins and is looking to make the jump to the WHL this season.

He came to last season’s rookie camp to get a taste of what he’d face this year.

He said that experience is paying off.

“I’m trying to come in with the same mindset of taking it all in, having fun and working hard,” he said. “If you do that, all the other things take care of themselves.

“It’s likely going to be a younger team this year. So if I work hard, hopefully I’ll get some opportunities.”

Clayton said the out-going Hitmen veterans have gone out of their way to make his transition easier.

“I hope all those guys get an opportunity to play pro hockey,” he said. “They’re great guys.

“(Former Hitmen captain) Ian Schultz took me under his wing last year. And (former d-man) Michael Stone, I’ve been billted with him this year and he’s been great to me, driving me around and stuff.

“Hopefully I get the opportunity to fill the void and I hope I can take it and run with it.”

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The Western Hockey League is getting in on the fun that is Hockey Day in Canada.

The Vancouver Giants and Kamloops Blazers will play a regular-season game in the Yukon Feb. 12, making it the first time the territory will host a junior hockey game.

The game will take place at the Canada Games Complex in Whitehorse.


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