HITMEN HEADLINES: The Calgary Hitmen (40-19-1-4) open a three game road trip tonight in Medicine Hat against the Tigers. Internet Broadcast on www.sportsnet.ca/960 starts at 6:00 p.m. The Hitmen are coming off Friday’s 3-1 home ice loss to Swift Current. Eetu Laurikainen made 36 saves in a first star performance as the Hitmen outshot the Broncos 37-20. All the scoring came in the first period with Victor Rask netting the lone Hitmen marker. Swift Current went 1-2 on the powerplay while Calgary was 0-5. Calgary sits third in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with 85 points. Their magic number to clinch home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs is three. Any number of Hitmen wins combined with either Red Deer or Prince Albert losses totaling three will ensure the Hitmen open the post season at Scotiabank Saddledome.
VS. MEDICINE HAT: Tonight is the fifth of six meetings with the season series tied 2-2. Cody Sylvester (3g, 1a) leads the Hitmen in scoring against the Tigers with four points, followed by Victor Rask (2g, 1a) with three. Hunter Shinkaruk (3g, 4a) tops the Tigers with seven points against Calgary followed by Curtis Valk (4g, 1a) with five. Over the last five seasons, the Hitmen are 16-11-0-1 against the Tigers, including an 8-6-0-0 record when on the road.
Oct.26/12 at CAL: Tigers 10 Hitmen 1 Curtis Valk (4g, 1a) and Hunter Shinkaruk (1g, 4a) each with five points for the Tigers.
Nov.23/12 at CAL: Hitmen 4 Tigers 1 Cody Sylvester (2g, 1a) recorded three points, while Chris Driedger stopped 24 shots.
Jan. 19/13 at M.H.: Tigers 4 Hitmen 0 Rookie goaltender Marek Langhamer made 30 saves for his first career WHL shutout.
Jan 29/13 at M.H.: Hitmen 3 Tigers 2 Calgary overcame a 2-0 second period deficit outshooting the Tigers 48-26.
INSIDE THE SERIES
Shots on Goal: CAL 125 M.H. 114 Power Plays: CAL 2-21 (9.5%) M.H 7-27 (25.9%) Next Meeting: Tues., Mar. 12 at Cal, 7 p.m.
SCORING TROUBLES: Although the Hitmen enter tonight winless in three (0-2-0-1) it’s not from a lack of shots. In their last three games, including five failed attempts in a shootout, the Hitmen have only scored four goals on 113 shots. Opposition goalies Mackenzie Skapski (Ktn), Andrey Makarov (Sask) and Eetu Laurikainen (SC) posted a combined .964 save percentage. The run of hot goalies has also affected the Hitmen powerplay which has gone a combined 1-16 in that same stretch.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: This current trip to Medicine Hat tonight, Saskatoon on Tuesday and Prince Albert Wednesday is Calgary’s last extended trip of the regular season. Once complete, the club will play four of their remaining five games on home ice with only a trip to Cranbrook in a season ending home-and-home series with the Kootenay Ice.
DID YOU KNOW? On February 22, the Hitmen recorded their 40th win of the season, marking the ninth time in franchise history the club has tallied at least 40 wins during the regular season. The club record for most regular season wins is 59, set in 2008-09 when the Hitmen finished the campaign 59-9-3-1.
SCORING RACE: Brooks Macek (73pts) and Cody Sylvester (72pts) are in a battle for the team lead in scoring. This is the 18th season of Hitmen hockey and only on three previous occasions has there been a tie for top scorer at the end of the season. In the 2007-08 campaign both Ryan White and Kyle Bortis finished with 72 points. In the 2005-06 season Ryan White and Brodie Dupont finished with 53 points each, while in the 2003-04 season Ryan Getzlaf and Andrew Ladd both had 75 points
GETTING THE CALL: On Wednesday, 16-year old defenceman Ben Thomas played his fifth game of the season with the Hitmen. The Calgary native was selected in by the Hitmen in the third round, 45th overall, in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft. Thomas has spent the majority of the regular season with the AJHL’s Calgary Canucks where he has four goals and two assists for six points in 42 contests. Thomas is one of two local products to play for the Hitmen this season, joining fellow rearguard Peter Kosterman.
CLIMBING THE RANKS: Now in his fifth season with Calgary, Cody Sylvester is moving up the lists of all-time scorers in club history. Sylvester has played 308 games with the Hitmen and has 89 goals and 122 assists for 211 points. The Vernon, British Columbia product is now sixth all-time in games played, 10th in goals as well as 9th in assists. Sylvester only trails Ryan Getzlaf by four points for a share of eighth in all-time points.
MILESTONE WATCH: Brady Brassart is one assist shy of 100 career assists, while Swedish import Victor Rask needs one more helper to reach 50. Assistant captain Brooks Macek is one point away from hitting 200 career points.
WHL LEADERBOARD: Brady Brassart leads the league in game-winning goals at nine, followed by Justin Feser and Malte Stromwall of the Tri-City who both have eight game-winning tallies. The single season franchise record for most game-winning goals is held by Pavel Brendl, who scored 14 game-winning markers in 1999-00.
NHL PROSPECTS: Chris Driedger (Ottawa 2012); Kenton Helgesen (Anaheim 2012); Jaynen Rissling (Washington 2012); Alex Roach (Three-year, Entry-level Contract, Los Angeles 2011); Victor Rask (Three-year, Entry-level Contract, Carolina 2011).
UPCOMING GAMES: Tomorrow is a travel day for the Hitmen before taking on the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup host Saskatoon Blades at Credit Union Centre Tuesday night. Radio Broadcast on Sportsnet 960 The Fan starts at 6:00 p.m. MST.