The Calgary Hitmen continue to chug along. As the calendar flipped over into 2019, the Western Hockey League club has continued to pile up the points and strengthen their once-tenuous spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Hitmen news this week
The WHL’s trade deadline is Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. MT.
As of this writing, the Hitmen have made one swap: they acquired the rights to AJHL forward Quinn Olson (and a conditional sixth round pick) from Prince Albert for Bryce Bader (and a conditional sixth round pick). While not formally announced, it seems reasonable to link one conditional pick to Olson reporting to Calgary and the other to Bader meeting some games played or points requirement. Olson is committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, but maybe being traded to his hometown team might change his mind.
The week that was
The Hitmen headed into the week having never beat a Central Division opponent this season. They sure fixed that.
Friday: 5-3 win over Red Deer
The fourth line paced the Hitmen, as 2019 NHL Draft prospect Cael Zimmerman had two goals and an assist to lead the way. Bryce Bader, Luke Coleman and Kaden Elder also scored. Red Deer’s Brandon Hagel, who’s just decimated the Hitmen this season, was relatively quiet with two assists. Calgary’s Jack McNaughton had 20 saves for the win, while 2019 NHL Draft prospect Ethan Anders (of Red Deer) had 23 saves in the loss.
Saturday: 4-3 win over Medicine Hat
Scoring by committee continued for the Hitmen. Jake Kryski, Carson Focht, Bader and Coleman scored for Calgary in a game of lead swings; the Hitmen led 1-0, Medicine Hat led 2-1 and then the Hitmen got out to a 4-2 lead that held up. McNaughton had 33 saves for the win, while Medicine Hat’s Jordan Hollett made 38 saves but took the loss.
Wednesday: 3-2 shootout win in Moose Jaw
Dakota Krebs forced overtime with 2:35 left in regulation and Elder also scored as the Hitmen found a way to get two points once again. James Malm, Josh Prokop and Focht scored in the shootout. Moose Jaw got multi-point nights from Montreal Canadiens prospect Josh Brook and Dalton Hamaliuk. McNaughton made 33 saves for the win, while Warriors netminder Adam Evanoff made 35 saves for the loss.
The Hitmen head into this weekend six points up on Brandon for the last Eastern Conference wildcard spot (but the Wheaties have two games in hand). They’re also just three points back of Medicine Hat for the first wildcard spot (with a game in hand) and five points back of the Edmonton Oil Kings for the last Central Division playoff spot with two games in hand. Winners of five straight, the Hitmen are in a surprisingly strong position for a team that couldn’t buy a win to open the season.
They continue the road trip that began on Wednesday in Moose Jaw next week. They play the Saskatoon Blades on Friday and visit Prince Albert to play the powerhouse Raiders on Saturday. They’re back home on Sunday, Jan. 20 to host the Red Deer Rebels.