With the Calgary Hitmen coming off a massive weekend, taking down three central division counterparts, the league-leading Hitmen await a new challenger in the Portland Winterhawks.
After three consecutive games this weekend, Calgary will have a seven-day break from play before resuming at home against the current U.S. Division leader. Portland is just a point behind Calgary, but they have a game in hand on the Hitmen and will be matching up against all six Central Division teams in their nine-day road trip.
Through four games, the Calgary Hitmen have experienced a similar goaltending scenario as last season, as both Jack McNaughton and Carl Stankowski have been solid in their appearances. Strong goaltending, however, looks to be well-matched by the Winterhawks, as St. Louis Blues prospect Joel Hofer has also managed to win all three appearances while putting up a .930 save percentage. The Hitmen received big news Monday morning when it was announced that captain Mark Kastelic had been released from his training camp tryout and would return to the WHL. Kastelic’s offensive production — he had 77 points last season — will bolster Calgary down the middle and provide extra options on the power play.
A large part of Calgary’s success will be dependent on the ability to shut down the Portland offense, which has had contributions from all areas of the lineup. Portland has managed to score the sixth-most goals of all WHL teams while holding a +8 goal differential which, along with the Medicine Hat Tigers, is a league-best. A line for Calgary to keep on in will be the trio of Cross Hanas, Simon Knak, and centre Tyson Kozak. The line has accounted for a combined five goals and 12 points as well as an impressive +13. Portland’s back end has also been tremendous so far, as Jonas Brondberg, Clay Hanus, and Johnny Ludvig have all helped out greatly offensively while holding down the defensive zone and limiting opponents to only six goals through three games.
Meanwhile, the Hitmen have two players in Carson Focht (3g, 3a) and Egor Zamula (2g, 3a) who are both riding four-game point streaks. Both players have been strong on the power play, as Calgary has gone 4-for-13, while Portland has a similar success rate going 4-for-12.
On another note, James Malm, who sat out the Sunday matinee clash against the Medicine Hat Tigers due to a minor undisclosed injury, will get a full week’s rest to hopefully recover and join the Hitmen in action this coming Sunday.
Calgary is off to the team’s best start since the 2012-13 season when the Hitmen went 3-0-1-0 through four games and look to continue this success against Portland this Sunday. The following Saturday, the Hitmen will make a trip north to visit the Oil Kings in what, after a heated home opener, should be another physical affair at Rogers Place.
- With Carl Stankowski recording his first career shutout on Sunday vs. Medicine Hat, the netminder now sits in third for goals-against average at 1.45.
- With only two more games played, defenseman and overage assistant captain Dakota Krebs will reach the 250 game milestone.