The Sunday matinee game between the visiting Portland Winterhawks and Calgary Hitmen was the first and only meeting between the two clubs. With Mark Kastelic back in the lineup centering Riley Stotts and Jonas Peterek, the matchup served as a great test for the Hitmen, as both teams had won three of four games played. Portland also came into the game having been ranked fourth on the Kia CHL Top 10, while Calgary earned an honourable mention. Jack Mcnaughton and Joel Hofer started for their respective clubs, while Carson Focht and James Malm were out of the Calgary lineup with injuries and Kade Nolan and Kurtis Smythe were scratched for the Winterhawks. Evan Toth was also slotted in for his first career WHL game as the Hitmen rotated seven defensemen.
It didn’t take long for Calgary to find the back of the net as a Jake Gricius penalty allowed Egor Zamula to capitalize on a cross-crease feed from Riley Stotts just four minutes into play to extend his point streak to five games. Portland struck back just 31 seconds later as Seth Jarvis’ rebound found the stick of Jack O’Brien, and the 16-year-old tied the game with his first WHL tally. Calgary poured on the pressure after the Portland goal and were able to score again twice before heading into the locker room. Jett Woo recorded his first goal as a member of the Hitmen, while Mark Kastelic got his first point upon returning with the assist. Orca Wiesblatt then added another to extend the first period lead to two as Zamula picked up his second point of the night with the assist.
The second period had a much different start for the visiting Winterhawks, as they controlled the majority of the play. However, they still struggled to generate quality opportunities. Calgary had limited the Hawks to perimeter shots until a Luke Prokop penalty allowed Portland to test their power play for the third time of the evening. However, Calgary’s penalty killers responded well on this opportunity. After successfully killing off the Luke Prokop penalty, older brother Josh Prokop took a quick pass from Orca Wiesblatt and ripped one home for the only goal of the frame.
In the final period, the Hitmen once again found themselves in penalty trouble with three calls against them. An early five-on-three power play for Portland allowed for more shorthanded practice for the Hitmen, as the club was perfect in killing off all five penalties. Portland, however, was not ready to roll over just yet as the momentum began to swing in favour of the Hawks. A tough angle shot from Seth Jarvis showed there was still life from the opposing bench while cutting the lead to two on a goal Jack McNaughton may have liked to have back. The Winterhawks pressed hard late but couldn’t solve the Hitmen defense nor McNaughton. With an empty net, Johnny Ludvig was robbed of the puck in the Portland zone by Tye Carriere who had just finished serving his penalty, and the fourth line presence sealed the win for the Hitmen while capping off a two-point night (1g, 1a). Head coach Steve Hamilton spoke postgame about the value of depth contributions, stating, “When you have a pretty veteran team, role acceptance and understanding how important you are in your piece of the puzzle is a really big thing. I think we have a lot of character guys who understand that, and we certainly all benefit from a lot of the work that maybe goes unsung.” Among depth players with two points for the Hitmen were Wiesblatt and Carriere, who recorded their first and second career WHL multi-point games.
Four Hitmen recorded multi-point games including the defensive pairing of Egor Zamula and Jett Woo. Head coach Steve Hamilton also spoke about the two with high praise around their defensive capabilities, besides the fact that they both chipped in offensively, saying, “You can play them together or you can play them apart… If we are going to be a successful team, we have got to defend, and those guys are a massive part of that.” Sunday’s victory moves the Hitmen to within a point of the Oil Kings for first in the central with two games in hand. The Hitmen will travel to Edmonton to battle their rivals in what can be expected to be yet another heated bout between the two clubs with valuable points on the line.
- Mark Kastelic went 22 for 32 in the faceoff circle and added an assist in his first game back.
- Calgary went 50% on the power play and maintain the top power play in the league while cashing in on 35.7% of man advantages.
- The Hitmen won their first matchup against Portland since the 2016-17 season.