Go ahead and insert your own proverbial phrase here about things not being as bad as they seem.
Yes, the Calgary Hitmen haven’t had the greatest start to their season. But at least they are not the Kamloops Blazers.
Taking advantage of the situation at hand, the Hitmen downed the winless Blazers 4-2 Wednesday night at the Sandman Centre.
The Hitmen’s second win on the campaign was less than 24 hours removed from their worst loss of the season when they were blasted 7-1 by the Prince George Cougars.
Once the final buzzer sounded at the CN Centre last night, the Hitmen boarded the team bus for Kamloops, arriving in the Tournament Capital City around 7 a.m. local time.
The unfavourable night of sleep didn’t seem to slow the Hitmen down early, as for the first time this season, the Hitmen ripped mesh first. Andrew Fyten’s shot through traffic made its way past Vegas Golden Knights’ prospect Dylan Ferguson at the 3:09 mark.
Hitmen Head Coach Dallas Ferguson hasn’t had any problem going to the blender with his line combinations, throwing things at the wall and hoping something will stick.
Last night, Jakob Stukel was sent down to the third line for Fyten. Tonight, it was Tristen Nielsen that saw his time on the top line end when Stukel returned alongside Matteo Gennaro. Gennaro picked up an assist to keep his streak of points in seven out of eight games alive, with the other assist coming to Stukel.
Not only was it the first time the Hitmen scored first, it was also the first time the Hitmen carried a lead into recess, after out-shooting the Blazers 14-7.
Whether the Hitmen really didn’t want to be the first team to lose to the Blazers, or they came out and showed signs character, the Hitmen brought the fight to the punch-less Blazers.
Luc Smith crosschecked Vladislav Yeromenko into the boards three minutes into the second period. The man advantage sparked the stalling Hitmen offence.
Gennaro blasted a clapper that was stopped by Dylan. The rebound jolted out to Luke Coleman for a glorious chance, but was denied by the former property of the Dallas Stars.
Shortly after, Stukel tried a little move on a breakaway, but was denied by Dylan.
After Smith’s penalty expired, he forced a rare turnover on Jake Bean, springing loose into the Hitmen zone.
The WHL’s leading shot-taker, Garrett Pilon, was working on Yeryomeko behind the net and hit Smith with a no-look backhand dish. Smith sniped his first of the season up top over Nick Schneider, to tie it 1-1.
Schneider got the call between the pipes for the second-straight night. Last night, against the third-place Cougars, he was relieved from his duties after the second period, having allowed four goals on 18 shots. He bounced back with a brilliant performance, battled an equipment issue and cranked out 30 saves for his second win this season.
Working to snap a five-game losing skid, the Hitmen (2-5-1-0) struck back 23 seconds later, when Coleman made a little move in tight on a breakaway, opening up Dylan ever so slightly, and slid the puck through his 5-hole.
Then, 1:08 later, Stukel was the beneficiary of some puck luck, as a shot that wasn’t intended for him deflected off a skate to the side of the net. Stukel, the Hitmen’s second-hottest goal scorer, wasted no time in depositing his fourth of the year past a surprised Blazer netminder. Gennaro picked up his second assist on the evening as he inches towards the 100-assist plateau. Hunter Campbell claimed his first point in the WHL on the eventual-game winner.
Campbell wasn’t done there, as he swatted in his first WHL goal with the puck floating over Dylan. Making contact at waist-level, Campbell belted it in, as Zach Huber picked up his first WHL point.
The Blazers stuffed in a late goal off the stick of Quinn Benjafield to cut the lead in half, but that was as close as they would get, as their franchise-record worst start grew to 0-9-0-0.
The Hitmen brought the jam to the Blazers, unleashing a franchise-record 56 shots. A drastic improvement from the night before, where they participated in two periods with less than five shots. They also received goals from three different lines. It’s that diversity and intensity that has been vacant from their offence thus far.
It was a milestone night for one Blazer, as Erik Miller competed in his 100th career game and finished with a minus-1 rating. In his third season with the Blazers, he has six goals, 14 points and 56 penalty minutes.
This also marked the first reunion meeting of the Hitmen and defenceman Brady Reagan. Reagan was the odd man out in the overage scenario this season. He was released Oct. 8 by the Hitmen and was appearing in his second game with the Blazers.
The Hitmen won’t have the luxury to take on another floundering team when they wrap up their B.C. road trip Oct. 13 in Kelowna, when they take on the second place Rockets (4-1-0-1).