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  April 1, 2000



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Little Big Fan!


By BRET "The Hitman" HART -- For the Calgary Sun

  I was flattered by a too-kind article about me in the Calgary Hitmen's playoff program that begins, "Pound for pound, he's the greatest Calgary Hitmen fan around." Well maybe -- but only if you don't count my son, Blade.

 The truth be told, Blade is probably the most enthusiastic Hitmen fan ever. He rattles off stats with amazing accuracy and comes up with clever strategies befitting a team historian, let alone a nine-year-old.

 On Wednesday night, the Moose Jaw Warriors put up a great fight and took us into overtime, not in small part due to great goaltending . Blade made his way to behind the Warrior bench to verbally 'razz' them and this, he assured me, would throw their game off.

 Somewhere in the middle of "your mother rides a vacuum cleaner ..." Chris Nielsen one-timed beautifully for the overtime win. The crowd roared and rose as one, yet I didn't have to look hard to see Blade, one arm stretched high in a fist with the happiest face in the crowd, "YES!".

 We went to the locker room and congratulated each and every one.

 I smiled when I thought how much this team means to Blade -- and to me.

 I miss the great players who left the team last year, like Brent Dodginghorse, Brad Stuart and Ryan Shannon and I encourage everyone to come out and see Jerred Smithson, Kenton Smith and Brad Moran in their final run.

 Since the team's inaugural year (1995-96), there have been nearly 100 players, yet only these three have been regulars at every campaign for five seasons in which they have played more than 300 games.

 Moran holds club records in nearly every offensive category. This season, he finishes his WHL career in the top 10 for goals, the top 15 for points and is a draft choice of the Buffalo Sabres.

 Moran and Pavel Brendl are the top scorers in the league and must be every goalie's nightmare. I found myself wondering what Brendl uses for fuel and you won't believe this, but I'm told the guy with the best shot in the league loves to eat hotdogs. Whatever works.

 Kenton Smith puts it this way, "Last year's team was a rush. Hopefully this year will be even bigger."

 And why not? Last year, a lot of hockey experts told me that as great a team as we had, we weren't big enough or tough enough. I didn't agree with that then and I certainly don't this year, when we pack the best 1-2 punch in the WHL with Stephen Peat and Robin Gomez, not to mention Brandon Segal, Jared Carli, Mike Bubnick and Wade Davis, big boys who give us the physical edge to go all the way.

 We have solid netminding in both Rastislav Stana and Brent Krahn. As for defence, it's always relieving to see Matt Kinch and Kenton Smith back there. These two definitely hold the key to the President's Cup and a trip to Halifax.

 As for speed, Sean McAslan and Jordan Krestanovich have been flying like rockets on a mission.

 Shaun Norrie has a little bit of everything and adds a lot to our overwhelming arsenal and Kris Beech has become an outstanding asset, weaving through the defence like a barracuda. Chris 'Old Nellie' Nielsen can turn on a dime with a slap shot or a wrist shot and, like Moran, he can carry the battle in offence or defence -- not to mention, he's the smartest kid in the league with a 98% average.

 The young heart of the team is beating strong in Rod Sarich, Chris Beston, Toni Bader and Matt Pettinger, who is one of the most gifted Hitmen players I have ever seen.

 Last year, we went all the way to the Memorial Cup final and lost in overtime. In the locker room after the game, Blade and I saw agonizing defeat and disappointment on the face of every player. But more than that, we saw something else, too. Determination. Every single one of them had the bull-headed resolve, the courage and the confidence to say, "we'll be back next year..." and they are. All you big hockey fans, check out the WHL playoffs!

 Tonight, Hitmen grad Brad Stuart will be back in town wearing a San Jose jersey. I find it hard to cheer for anyone who plays against the Flames, but in this case, I'll have to make an exception.

 Hats off to Dean Clark and Jeff Maher, I don't know how they do it but as long as they do, I'll be in the stands cheering for the Hitmen. If at times you can't hear me, it's only because Blade is cheering even louder.

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