The Cale Fleury era in Regina began on a high note.
The 19-year-old blue liner was acquired from the Kootenay ICE Monday afternoon for a pair of prospects and a three draft picks. Playing his first game at the Brandt Centre, Fleury helped deliver a 4-3 win Wednesday night against the Calgary Hitmen in a rematch of last year’s opening round playoff series.
The Hitmen were playing their fifth back-to-back game this season and found themselves in a similar position to yesterday’s 6-5 overtime loss in Brandon.
Last night, it was the Hitmen with the one-goal lead late, who gave up the tying goal with the Wheat Kings net empty.
Tonight, the Hitmen (6-12-3-0) trailed by one with former Regina Pat netminder Nick Schneider being lifted from his net with 1:57 remaining.
Unfortunately for the Hitmen, two thirds of their top line, Matteo Gennaro and Andrew Fyten, exited the game in the second half of the game with injuries and did not return. With less than a minute remaining, Anaheim Ducks prospect Sam Steel was relentless on the forecheck, killing precious time in the Hitmen zone.
Time expired on the Hitmen’s chance to secure one point for the third-straight game as Vladislav Yeryomenko’s last-second shot attempt sailed wide.
The 4-3 loss meant that the Hitmen’s struggles playing in the Eastern conference continues, as they fall to 0-3-1-0 in Saskatchewan and Manitoba this season.
The Hitmen arrived into the Queen City at 3:30 a.m. this morning, but didn’t show signs of early fatigue.
Jakob Stukel stole the puck off the opening faceoff and blitzed in on the 17-year-old backup netminder Max Paddock, but was turned away on the backhand.
It was the Memorial Cup hosts that struck first, as Finnish sensation Emil Oksanen netted his 11th of the season on the power play by shooting through a screen at the 2:52 mark of the first. Dawson Davidson picked up the lone assist on the Pats’ second shot of the game.
After getting blanked on the man advantage last night, Hitmen captain Gennaro wasted no time in changing his team’s special teams fortunes by blasting a bomb from the point past Paddock for his seventh power play goal.
His seven markers on the man advantage move him into a tie for second in the WHL for power play goals.
Schneider has started every back-to-back scenario this season. Last night he allowed a season-high six goals, but found himself back between the pipes against the team he made his major-junior debut with. Schneider only played nine games with the Pats during the 2013-14 campaign. He finished up with a 2-2-0-2 record, 3.56 goals against average and .870 save percentage.
Schneider was peppered in the first, as the Pats (12-8-2-0) who slept in their own beds last night, directed 15 shots on the Hitmen netminder.
The fine people of Regina didn’t know what jersey their former 50-goal scorer and Bobby Clarke Trophy award winner would wear this season. There was a realistic chance Steel could have made the Anaheim Ducks roster, but lucky for the Pats fans, he returned to the provincial capital.
Steel has gotten off to a slow start, but buried his sixth of the season by finishing off a tic-tac-toe pass from the slot, to the corner, to the backdoor where Steel was stationed. Nick Henry and Robbie Holmes picked up assists on the pretty play.
Keeping things within reason in the first period was Hitmen rear ender Jackson van de Leest, who was playing in his first game since returning from winning a silver medal with Team Canada Red at the World U17 Hockey Challenge in northern B.C. He was with the team last night but was a healthy scratch after a long night of travel.
Koby Morrisseau and Bryce Platt embarked on a two-on-one, as they tried to put the game out of reach early, but the long reach of van de Leest allowed him to swat the puck out of harms way.
In the second, Matt Bradley put the Pats up 3-1 on a great individual effort. He stole the puck at centre, drove down the right wing and fired a shot from the bottom of the right faceoff circle past his former Medicine Hat Tigers teammate Schneider. Bradley is friendly with another Hitmen player, having played the 2012-13 season with the Valley West Hawks of the B.C. Major Midget League and Stukel.
Tristen Nielsen was given credit on a goal last night without making contact with the puck. Overnight, while the Hitmen bus cruised along the Trans-Canada Highway, the goal was reversed and awarded to Jake Kryski, removing Nielsen’s second two-goal performance of the season.
Thirty-three seconds after the Pats took a two-goal lead in the second period, Nielsen set a new career-high for points (eight) when he tipped in a point shot from Vladislav Yeryomenko. It was the second-straight game with a deflection goal for the Fort St. John product. Last season, he recorded two goals and six assists in 49 games.
For Yeryomenko, he now has two assists in back-to-back games for the first time this year and sits six-points shy of notching a career high.
The Pats started the third period even quicker than they did in the first.
There appeared to be some confusion with Carolina Hurricanes prospect Jake bean and Calgary Flames prospect Schneider on a dump in. Bean looked as if he thought there was going to be an icing call and wasn’t busting it back to his goal line. Schneider vacated the net to play the puck, which negated the icing call. The Pats were first to the puck and threw it on net, as Henry swatted in his first of the season out of midair, just 15 seconds into the final frame. The 18-year-old Henry enjoyed a marvelous rookie season last year, where he racked up 35 goals and 46 assists, to finish second in rookie scoring.
Hitmen power forward Luke Coleman made things interesting midway through the third, as he barreled towards the net and bumped in his fifth of the season, as the Hitmen finished 2-for-4 on the man advantage.
With time winding down, Hitmen newcomer Orca Wiesblatt was searching for his second goal with the club and was starring at a vacant upper half of the net. At the last possible moment, Paddock threw his glove in the air, getting enough of the puck to send it harmlessly over the net.
Things don’t get any easier for the Hitmen, who will take on a team many expect to add a big piece to their roster prior to the Jan. 10 trade deadline, in the Moose Jaw Warriors (16-5-0-0). It will be the Hitmen’s first trip to Mosaic Place this season, an arena where they went 0-2 last season.
The Hitmen return to the Scotiabank Saddledome Nov. 22, when they host the Portland Winterhawks (14-4-0-0) at 7 p.m.