Hitmen to kick off latest regular season campaign starting Friday
By Matthew DeMille, Sports Editor
Hockey has returned to the Scotiabank Saddledome.
But it isn’t the Calgary Flames who are taking to the ice — yet.
Instead, it’s time for Calgary’s Western Hockey League (WHL) representative, the Calgary Hitmen, to take the spotlight.
For Hitmen defenceman and Calgary local, Carter Yakemchuk, his anticipation for the start of the season was almost painful and his trepidation and eagerness to suit up with the Hitmen was agonizing.
“We’re all really excited for the year,” Yakemchuk said in an interview with the WHL. “We all think that this is going to be a big year for [the Hitmen].
The same sentiment was echoed by Hitmen head coach, Steve Hamilton.
“I think any year, if you want to take a step as an organization, you need more quality players pushing for roster spots that are actually available,” Hamilton shared in another interview with the WHL. “If you want to evolve and become an upper echelon team in the league, you need depth at every position and we certainly feel like we’re a step closer to that.”
Last season, the Hitmen snuck into the first round of the WHL Playoffs with a seventh-place finish in the Eastern Conference’s regular season standings. Their time in the playoffs didn’t last long, however, as they were booted out by highway rivals, the Red Deer Rebels, following a quick, five-game series.
Now, new season in hand, Yakemchuk and the Hitmen are ready to make another post-season push.
“We have a lot of skill on our team and I think probably the biggest thing we bring to the Hitmen is we work hard. I think we have a lot of talent up front, but we got a lot of guys that are really willing to do whatever it takes to win.”
In order to grasp a season full of success, Yakemchuk himself is expected to be an integral cog in the Hitmen lineup — much like he was last season. And coach knows it too.
“[Carter’s] offensive talent is undeniable. He’s creative, he’s got a wicked release and is able to beat goalies clean, which is, in itself, a weapon,” Hamilton said.
The looming, 6-foot-3 blueliner finished third in goals among WHL defenceman, with 19, and first in power-play goals by defenceman, with 15.
“He’s a prime example of a guy, who at [16-years-old], is finding his way in the league and now, as he enters his third season in the league, his progression has been impressive.”
Along with Yakemchuk, the Hitmen organization will also rely on the rest of their returning player cohort to step up and lead the team in the early stages of the season.
Especially the team’s 20-year-old players, Sean Tschigerl and Tyson Galloway. Heading into their last eligible year in the WHL, the pair are set to be the elder mentors for their younger teammates.
“Those guys are quality 20-year-old players. From a leadership standpoint, from an on-ice performance standpoint, they really do embody what we want our guys to be about,” Hamilton said.
Good news is, the wait to get the season underway is nearly over for Yakemchuk, Hamilton, and the rest of the Hitmen.
Starting on Friday, Sept. 22, the Hitmen will begin their 68-game, regular season campaign when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers at the Scotiabank Saddledome.