From champs to chumps
Cruel ending for Hitmen veterans
By Rita Mingo, For The Calgary Herald
March 22, 2011
Goalie Brandon Glover, of Victoria, B.C., and left-winger John Lawrence of Newdale, Man., pack up their lockers Monday as the Calgary Hitmen finished their season after failing to make the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
Photograph by: Lorraine Hjalte, Calgary Herald, For The Calgary Herald
Ben Wilson is the only Calgary Hitmen player to have appeared in every game this season. It would stand to reason, then, that he knows the agony of defeat better than anyone.
"It's the first time I've played in every game, I think, for a long time,'' mused the 19-yearold iron man, whose satisfaction in appearing in all 72 outings was tempered by the fact that there are no more. "It feels like there's a lot of regrets. This is the time when you want to be playing.''
The Hitmen, who finished 2010-11 with a lamentable 20-47-3-2 record, went from Western Hockey League champs to doormats in just 12 months, missing the post-season for the first time in 14 years. This day, known in sporting circles as garbage-bag day, has been on the team calendar for a while now, but that didn't make it any easier.
"You know what, that 12game losing streak is what really set us back,'' added Wilson, a defenceman. "A lot of one-goal games there . it could have been anything that could have changed our season.''
"It's tough to see all the guys leave,'' commented Rob Trzonkowski, in his first season with the Hitmen. "Coming in I knew this was a great organization; it was everything I expected. I'm sure the coaches want me to get bigger and stronger over the summer so I can be a key role player next year, someone they can use in every situation.''
If it felt surreal for the players, particularly for those who've been around the organization for a few years, it's understandable. For the three over-age players on the roster, Kris Foucault, Tyler Fiddler and Misha Fisenko, it's a cruel finale.
"It's a sad day, especially for me,'' noted Fiddler, whose injuries held him to just 41 games. "Last time in the dressing room, last day as a Calgary Hitmen. A lot of good memories, a lot of friendships formed.''
Foucault, the team's leading scorer with 48 points, hopes his mentoring of younger players will have been beneficial.
"It's definitely not the way I wanted to finish,'' he said. "Last night I thought 'I don't have curfew, I don't have to get up early, I don't have to do anything'. It's tough. I've watched the Hitmen all my life and I know the winning tradition. It felt like everything that could go wrong did.''
"It sucks,'' agreed centreman Cody Sylvester. "Last year, we went all the way. Our year is ending three months before it should. It's motivation to get prepared for next year. ''
Defenceman Peter Kosterman has this summer's NHL draft to look forward to first.
"It's pretty exciting, I guess,'' he admitted. "If I get drafted, that's great. If not, it'll make me work even harder.
"We put ourselves in this position; we can't blame anyone else. It was very frustrating. I'm already excited for next year. There are shoes to fill and spots to be taken.''
The coaching staff met with each player on Monday, the directive a simple one.
"Our message is when we see them in the fall they have to show us how bad they want to be part of this team,'' pointed out head coach Mike Williamson. "We had higher expectations and I don't think they were unrealistic. We have a lot of returning players and if they put the work in this summer, they'll have the opportunity to return and contribute. If they don't put that work in, I think there are a lot of players in Western Canada that would love to be here.''
"I think everyone's pretty confident about next year,'' pitched in goaltender Brandon Glover, who posted a 3.54 GAA in 31 games backing up Mike Snider. "We know what needs to be done over the summer. We struggled to build a team identity this year. Junior hockey is so weird that way. But we've all learned from it.''
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