Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Hitmen Hit With Junior Hockey Reality

This past May, the Calgary Hitmen were on top of the WHL, winning the Chynoweth Cup for league champions and on their way to the Memorial Cup. Right now, they sit in last place in all of the WHL with a 4-11-0 record. They are on the verge of not making the playoffs for the first time in the 13 years. And GM Kelly Kisio is irate.

Thus is the life of Junior Hockey, where the turnaround and the roster shuffling is almost as bad as constant free agency. The Hitmen felt it hard with the loss of goaltender Martin Jones and scorers Brandon Kozun, Ian Schultz, and Joel Broda to the professional ranks, as well as Zak Stebner to a trade earlier in the year; but they have had big losses before and been able to transition easily, but this year seems to be the breaking point for them. While it could be the early season woes, it may take some drastic moves. If the Hitmen don't make the playoffs, they'd be the first WHL team who was the previous year champion to not make the playoffs the next season (so long as the WHL website and Wikipedia hasn't swayed me wrong).

To put it in perspective, Jones won the WHL Goalie of the Year, Top Goalie in the Memorial Cup, WHL Playoff MVP, and was on the Canadian World Junior team-- how do you think a team would play without someone like that?? Kozun and Broda combined for 71 goals in 65 games last season and Kozun added 71 assists, as well. Schultz was a heart and soul guy with 150 PIMs along with 24 goals in 70 games. Plus, their defense is depleted with Giffen Nyren, Tyler Shattock, and Stebner all off the team for one reason or another (trade or pros). That drastic of a turnover is something that may not be seen again...or could be, depends on the team.

This shows how rough and how loyal junior fans have to be in terms of dealing with all of these turnarounds and the uncertainty of a dynasty kind of ordeal. Plus, it also goes to show how hard it is to manage one of these teams-- dealing with getting a solid roster year-in and year-out, plus making the moves to deal with import players (only two per roster) and dealing with overage players who haven't caught on with the pros (only three 20-year-olds to each roster). It's a taunting task to get everyone a taste of some playing time so they're not left in the lurch a few years down the road.

Sure, the option of trading away prospects to an awful team for their star player could work-- but there's going to come a time where that'll bite you in the ass because there's going to come a time where the prospects wash up. With a team doing well, they won't have priority in the bantam drafts, thus won't have the talent others get to replenish their system.

Like I said before, the Hitmen have been able to bounce back with the losses of many big players, but that's because they were able to get ice time to the younger guys and get a lot of their role players-- doesn't seem to be the case this season for one reason or another. Luckily, the season is still young, there's moves to be made, and there's a chance that other teams can lose some players to injury-- but as it looks right now, the Hitmen are about to make history for all the wrong reasons.

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