The Calgary Hitmen 2021 rookie class has had a rookie experience that cannot compare to any class before them. The rookies had to adapt to the jump to WHL hockey but have also had to adjust to a never-before-seen Alberta-only conference while living under tight covid-19 restrictions. As a result, the Hitmen said goodbye to the Saddledome for the season to play on the Tsuu T’ina Nation lands. In addition, the Hitmen were forced into a 2-week break due to a positive covid-19 test within the teams’ cohort, making for an even more wild season.
The craziness that was the 2021 WHL season has given the Hitmen rookies an introduction to the WHL that was challenging to say the least. However, while looking ahead to the 2021-22 season, a season that will hopefully see the play go back to normal, I believe that the season’s craziness has prepared the 2021 rookie class for a breakout sophomore season. Three Hitmen, in particular, are well prepared to have a breakout sophomore season.
Zandee had a very successful rookie season with the Hitmen, posting nine points in 21 games. The Hitmen’s left-winger is without a doubt physically ready for a breakout season in his sophomore year. Zandee is listed as 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds. Zandee showcased that he wasn’t afraid to get in the mix throughout his rookie season. Before his rookie season in the WHL, Zandee played with the Canmore Eagles of the AJHL, where he recorded 12 goals and 13 assists.
Throughout his hockey career, Zandee has showcased the ability to play on both ends of the ice. Zandee further showcased his ability to play both sides throughout his rookie season as he led all Calgary Hitmen rookies in points and was 32nd among all WHL rookies. Zandee’s size is one of his greatest assets. Zandee can utilize his 6-foot-3 frame in front of the net and in the corners to be a significant factor for the Hitmen in the upcoming season. If Zandee can build upon the success of his rookie season, all signs point to a breakout year for the Hitmen left-winger.
The Hitmen do not have a shortage of left-wingers to look to in the future as the second rookie who can have a breakout sophomore season for the Hitmen is Zac Funk. Funk is a 5-foot-11 left-winger from Vernon, BC. Funk posted a solid rookie season to build upon, appearing in 21 games and scoring five points while registering 30 shots on goal. In addition to his time with the Hitmen, Funk played with Northern Okanagan Knights of the KIJHL for a brief three-game stint in the 2021 season, where he recorded a point per game. Funk has showcased the ability to improve on his skill set in every season throughout his hockey career.
In the final game of the season, Funk saw crucial time on the power-play unit. Logging 45 seconds of PP time while trailing the Rebels 1-0 in the second period. This may indicate an increased role in the upcoming season. With his success in the whirlwind season in the WHL, I have no doubt Funk will continue to improve and build upon a solid rookie campaign.
"It's been a very fun experience."
— Calgary Hitmen (@WHLHitmen) May 4, 2021
Whynott is the youngest player on this list. Born in 2004 in Langley, BC, Whynott has had previous experience with the Yale Hockey Academy. In his most recent year with the academy, Whynott registered 34 points in 36 games throughout the 2019-20 season. Also, a left-winger, Whynott has a solid frame to compete in the WHL at 6-foot-1. Throughout his rookie campaign, Whynott appeared in 20 games, posting five points.
A Bright Future Ahead
The Calgary Hitmen rookie class of 2021 experienced a rookie season never seen before in the WHL. Only time will tell if the incoming sophomores can build upon a rookie campaign in the WHL, but I believe the season tested the rookies in ways they have never seen before. The uncertainty and turbulence experienced throughout the season have set up the rookies for a breakout sophomore season. It should be no surprise if Tristan Zandee, Zac Funk, and Brandon Whynott experience breakout years throughout their sophomore campaign.