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  March 31, 2001



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Refs standing Pat


By BRET HART -- Calgary Sun
 You know those pro wrestling referees who selectively see what's going on? Well, at the Calgary Hitmen-Regina Pats playoff games, the refs seem to be auditioning for a stint in the WWF.

 Let me say from the get-go that I appreciate how tough the job is and I don't envy hockey refs one bit. The fans in Calgary are tolerant but on Wednesday night the majority of the crowd was pretty heated about the officiating.

 I figure they don't call a lot of stuff with the idea to 'just let 'em play.' But as a fan, it's frustrating to me when it becomes a hackfest. The Pats seem more inclined to play it that way. The Hitmen are a team that can play either way. They're beautiful to watch or they can get extremely physical when they have to. There have been a lot of retaliatory reactions on both sides.

 Personally, I think a little more law and order on the ice would be nice -- lest we forget the Brad Stuart/Lance Galbreith travesty that many of us feel cost the Hitmen the '99 Memorial Cup in Ottawa.

 Still, I've said it before and I'll say it again -- Hitmen hockey gives you the best bang for your buck in Calgary. I think it would be great if everyone comes out to support the team tomorrow. If that sounds like a blatant plug, it is! It's a fun thing to do with your whole family -- especially during the playoffs. Wouldn't it be cool to cheer the team on to victory at home so there's no Game 7 in Regina?

 Besides, Kris Beech, Pavel Brendl and Matt Kinch are all destined to be stars in the NHL. Wouldn't you like to be able to say, "hey, I saw him in a Hitmen jersey and he was great even then."

 That was the buzz in the crowd when former Hitmen great Chris Nielsen returned to the 'Dome the other day to take on the Flames with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

 The Hitmen are more often seen as an offensive team but if you have seen Brendl show off his defensive skills, you'd be really impressed. And then there's Kinch, without a doubt considered the best defensive player in the league -- and he lives up to it every game.

 It's not just the veterans on the team who are doing their share. Wade Davis has done a lot to fill the void since Rod Sarich has been out with a concussion. (Tell me about it. He'll be back soon.) There's been a consistent barrage of heavy hits laid out by Sean MacAslan, Shaun Norrie and Shaun Sutter.

 My favourite hit in the playoffs was when a Regina player took a head-on run into Owen Fussey -- but it wasn't Fussey who ended up seeing stars. And how about Brady Block, turning in some of the best goaltending of the season. I almost thought that Brad Moran was playing again -- but it turned out to be Robin Gomez. Here's a guy known for his rock 'em sock 'em robotic approach to hockey and yet there he was on Thursday with a hat-trick. The second goal was scored with two players hanging all over him and he tucked a sweet one right over top of the goalie. Everyone was on their feet with excitement -- even a former junior hockey player from the OHL, Flames captain Dave Lowry and his son.

 "Hitmen hockey. The game for players." A good slogan maybe?

 I had lunch with head Hitmen coach Dean Clark a couple of weeks ago.

 He spoke very confidently that this team has what it takes to go all the way to the Memorial Cup -- and I believe him. There were 9,000 people at the last game that agree.

 Every year about this time there's magic in the air. Come on down and be part of it tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

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