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Calgary Herald article (Hitmen show signs of life)

December 17 2010 at 8:42 PM
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Response to Vancouver Sun article (Hay wants more hustle, more heart)

Hitmen show signs of life

By John Down, Calgary Herald

December 17, 2010

Game Day

Kelowna (17-15-0) at Hitmen (10-21-2)

7 p.m., Saddledome

Radio: FAN 960


There are signs of a pulse as the defending champion Calgary Hitmen steam towards the halfway point of the Western Hockey League season.

But there is also very much work to do.

Tonight's outing against the Kelowna Rockets at the Scotiabank Saddledome (7 p.m., FAN 960) will be game No. 35 of 72 and the rookie-laden Hitmen remain last in the 22-team league but only nine points out of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

Memories of a franchise-equalling, 12-game losing streak that stung them between Oct. 19 and Nov. 14 are long gone and replaced by the upbeat feelings of a 3-2-1 record in their last six games. Granted, they are coming off a 3-2 loss to the homestanding and top 10-nationally ranked Kootenay Ice, but there is more cohesiveness, more confidence.

"The players are starting to play more as a unit and we're starting to get more of a consistent effort," said head coach Mike Williamson, after giving his troops a day away from the rink on Thursday. "We still have a long ways to go but at least we're starting to see some signs."

One thing that jumps out is the team's willingness to roll up its sleeves.

"I think we've started to work harder, to be honest," continued Williamson. "That's been a big thing. That last win we had, we weren't terrific but we worked hard and played desperate . . . guys blocking shots, doing a lot of the little things if we don't we don't find a way to win the hockey game."

Even when they've been outworked, they've either found a way to win or almost found a way. The most recent example was Wednesday's 3-2 loss at Cranbrook in which they grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first period on just six shots only to have the Ice come roaring back, out-shooting the Hitmen 30-5 in the last two periods to scoop victory.

"They (Ice) hustled and outworked us for the last 40 minutes," acknowledged Williamson. "We were hanging on by a thread . . . (Lucas) Glover played well, kept us in there but we didn't do what we had to do to continue to build on our 2-0 lead."

Goaltender Glover, along with forwards Nathan McMaster and Danny Gayle, were recent additions to the Hitmen after a big swap with the Moose Jaw Warriors. And while the three 18-year-olds have all contributed noticeably, the onus remains on the core group of veteran forwards, in particular, to lead the way.

"There's still got to be a big push from our group of forwards," said Williamson. "They've been better in the last couple of weeks but there's still room for them to give more. We've been in a lot of one-goal games, won some and lost some, so we are close, starting to come as a group.

"But we need our big players to lead the way and challenge everybody to be hard-working hockey players. That's what's been inconsistent and that looks like it's starting to come."

The Hitmen have been without sniper Tyler Fiddler for a large number of games and now team sparkplug Cody Sylvester has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. They won't be back to join the likes of offensive leaders Kris Foucault, Misha Fisenko and Jimmy Bubnick until after the Christmas break.

But there'll be no looking back or looking for excuses. They are just two points shy of climbing out of the basement for the first time this season and then it's a matter of taking the rungs one at a time towards a post-season berth.

This And That: The Hitmen have moved up the starting time of their Dec. 28 tussle with the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors to 5 p.m. The 11th annual Dodge Skate with the Hitmen follows the game, allowing holders of game tickets to lace up and skate with the team. Parents are reminded that children under aged 12 must wear helmets.

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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