Hitmen finding a way to operate in WHL’s 2021 bubble
By George Potter, Staff Writer
The Calgary Hitmen have started this WHL season in a bubble. There have been many changes to the team’s roster as some players left during the offseason and new faces are filling leadership roles for the team.
The WHL had to keep pushing back its opening date due to the ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions. With the league finally settling on a return to play, the Hitmen won’t get to skate their home stadium all year. Instead of the Scotiabank Saddledome, the team is calling the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex in the Tsuut’ina Nation home for 2021.
The Calgary Hitmen have started the year fairly impressively. With a mix of veterans and newcomers, the team is working on gelling and finding chemistry on the ice. Through their first eight games, the Hitmen sat in second place in the central division with a 4-3-1 record, just below the first-place Edmonton Oil Kings who have yet to lose through their first seven games.
One thing the Hitmen will miss this year is their annual teddy bear toss. However, they were able to keep the spirit alive by getting fans to bring the teddy bears to the Saddledome in a drive-thru format around the holidays.
Defenseman Luke Prokop, one of the Hitmen’s star players, was selected in the third round of the 2020 NHL draft. He was the 73rd selection for the Nashville Predators. Prokop officially signed his entry-level contract with the Predators after he was drafted, but is still assigned to the Hitmen for this season after being named captain for the team.
Some of the players who left the team moved on to pursue professional careers or join a team in U SPORTS. Former captain Mark Kastelic and defenseman Jett Woo both moved on to play in the American Hockey League (AHL). Dakota Krebs now plays for the University of Calgary Dinos, while Kyle Olsen joined the Mount Royal Cougars.
Josh Prokop, the 27th captain in franchise history, following his brother Luke, was unveiled the team’s new leaders. Luke, defenseman Jackson Van de Leest, Cael Zimmerman and Riley Stotts became the new alternate captains.
In the team’s first game of the season, they beat the Red Deer Rebels 2-0. Two of the Hitmen’s players achieved career firsts in the game — goaltender Brayden Peters got the first shutout of his WHL career and defenseman Tyson Galloway scored the first goal of his career.
Since the 2-0 win over the Rebels, the team has been up and down. The Rebels beat the Hitmen 3-2 in overtime. The Hitmen then struggled in back-to-back games against the Medicine Hat Tigers losing 6-2 and 4-2 respectively. However, they were able to bounce back in the third game of their series against the Tigers, winning 5-4.
The Calgary Hitmen followed up their series with the Tigers with a three-game set against their rival Lethbridge Hurricanes. They fell in the first game 3-1, on a short-handed goal that was assisted by now Buffalo Sabres forward Dylan Cozens. Defenseman Luke Prokop scored the only goal for the Hitmen. They won the second game with a 4-3 victory in overtime. The Hitmen blew out the Hurricanes 7-4 in the third game with forward Adam Kydd scoring two goals.
The rest of the Hitmen’s schedule consists of three-game series’ against the Tigers, Rebels, Oil Kings and Hurricanes. Their regular-season runs up to May 5. There has been no formal announcement of a playoff schedule or format, as the WHL awaits updates to COVID-19 guidelines.