Some people forecasted that the Calgary Hitmen last season would have been closer to where they are this season.
Few thought they would have once again been the WHL champs.
Junior hockey, by nature, tends to be cyclical and when the Hitmen lost a bumper crop of graduates (Karl Alzner, etc.) two seasons ago, they could have easily gone into rebuild mode. Instead, they ended up winning the WHL once again.
But when they lost more graduates (snipers Brandon Kozun and Joel Broda among others) after last season, few would have predicted they would go from first to worst.
While the Edmonton Oil Kings are in the process of trying to build a first era of success in the WHL, the Hitmen have ridden a long wave.
It’s a culture change, if not shock, for the organization.
“Absolutely,” said Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson Monday, ahead of the nationally broadcast Battle of Alberta with the Oil Kings. “We still had high expectations coming into this season, but we knew our roster wasn’t going to be as experience-laden as it had been for the last couple of years.”
Though they had 10 players back from the Dub-winning squad, the Hitmen have nine rookies and 17 players 18 and under on their 2010-11 roster.
“We felt we still had enough experience, especially from our forwards, to push it through. We just haven’t found ways to win enough hockey games this year.”
• Oil Kings captain Mark Pysyk returned to the lineup Monday, but he didn’t do it just to regain his team-leading plus-minus number. Michael St. Croix’s three points in Saturday’s win over Lethbridge pushed the centre to plus-29, matching Pysyk. A solid, clutch effort against the Canes also bumped Keegan Lowe by plus-one to also match his regular defence partner.
• Around since the start of the expansion Oil Kings, Adrian Van de Mosselaer started his franchise-record 210th game Monday.
• Hitmen prospect Greg Chase of Sherwood Park — nephew of former NHL tough guy Kelly Chase — was a bronze-medal teammate of Oil Kings’ prospect Maso Geertsen with Team Alberta at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax this month.