Prior to the Pandemic
While they entered the 2019-20 campaign as one of the favourites to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup, the Hitmen never quite lived up to the high expectations that many had set out for them in the pre-season. However, they looked to be a tough opponent for whoever was going to win the East Division as they were set to cross over for the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Despite being sidelined for a couple of weeks in April after a positive COVID-19 result shut down all team activities, the Hitmen ended up being a solid side during the shortened season, which saw them move to the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex on Tsuut’ina Nation as the Scotiabank Saddledome was already in use.
On their way to a 10-8-3-0 record and a third place finish in the Central Division, the Hitmen matched their 3.42 goals per game mark from last season. However, their goals against average per game jumped from 3.14 to 3.75, which was the highest for the club since a 3.83 mark in the 2017-18 season.
- Josh Prokop (10-14-24 in 21 games)
- Riley Stotts (6-9-15 in 21 games)
- Orca Wiesblatt (2-4-6 in 13 games)
- Blake Allan (2-4-6 in 21 games)
- Connor Gabruch (2-4-6 in 21 games)
- Conrad Mitchell (0-0-0 in eight games)
- Jonas Peterek (Unsigned 2020 import draft pick – 5-12-17 in 32 games for HC Frydek Mistek in the Czech Republic – 13-18-31 in 55 games for Calgary and Kelowna in 2019-20)
- Cael Zimmerman (6-4-10 in 19 games)
- Riley Fiddler-Schultz (5-10-15 in 20 games)
- Adam Kydd (9-8-17 in 21 games)
- Zac Funk (4-1-5 in 21 games)
- Alexei Garapuchik (Unsigned 2020 import draft pick – 6-15-21 in 27 games for Shakhter Soligorsk in Belarus)
- David Hymovitch (Unsigned 4th round pick in 2018 – 4-6-10 in 31 games for the Muskegon Lumberjacks – Committed to the Quinnipiac Bobcats)
- Sean Tschigerl (13-8-21 in 21 games)
- Tristan Zandee (1-8-9 in 21 games)
- Mason Finley (5th round pick in 2019 – 24-29-53 in 32 games for Okanagan Rockets Under-16 team in 2019-20)
- Billal Noori (4th round pick in 2019 – 0-6-6 in six games for Northern Alberta Xtreme Under-18 Prep team – 30-29-59 in 33 games for Northern Alberta Elite 15’s in 2019-20)
- Brandon Whynott (2-3-5 in 19 games)
- Oliver Tulk (1st round pick in 2020 – 0-3-3 in five games for Delta Hockey Academy Under-17 Prep team – 27-42-69 in 30 games for Delta Hockey Academy Under-15 Green team in 2019-20)
Going into the season, the Hitmen had lost three of their top forwards to graduation, as overagers Mark Kastelic and Kyle Olson both moved on to the AHL, along with 2000-born forward Carson Focht.
Captain Josh Prokop ended up leading the way in his final season in the league, but the Hitmen’s overall depth proved to be their biggest strength on offence. Sean Tschigerl’s point per game showing should allow him to be picked in the NHL Draft next month, while Adam Kydd and Riley Fiddler-Schultz both had strong performances.
After only playing in 30 games last year due to injury, former Prince Albert Mintos Cael Zimmerman had a bounce-back campaign, while Tristan Zandee showed flashes in his rookie season after coming over from the AJHL’s Canmore Eagles.
- Jackson Van De Leest (3-9-12 in 21 games)
- Luke Prokop (2-4-6 in 15 games – Nashville Predators prospect)
- Evan Toth (0-7-7 in 21 games)
- Tyson Galloway (4-5-9 in 17 games)
- Rory Neill (0-4-4 in 21 games)
- Owen Palfreyman (0-2-2 in 12 games)
- Grayden Siepmann (0-1-1 in 20 games)
- Matthew Sutter (Unsigned 6th round pick in 2019 – 0-5-5 in 56 games for the Northeast Generals – Committed to the Lake Superior State Lakers)
- Briggs Orr (2020 U.S. Prospects Draft pick – 4-7-11 in 37 games for the Northstar Christian Academy Under-16 team)
- Carter Yakemchuk (3rd round pick in 2020 – 0-0-0 in five games for the Calgary Under-18 Flames – 7-21-28 in 32 games for the Calgary Under-15 Flames in 2019-20)
Like their counterparts up front, Calgary’s blueline also lost saw some key pieces from last year’s side, as Dakota Krebs aged out of junior hockey and the duo of Jett Woo and Egor Zamula moved on to the pro ranks, though Zumala hadn’t actually played for the Hitmen since he underwent back surgery after playing for Russia at the 2020 World Juniors.
After finishing tied with Zamula for second in defensive scoring on the Hitmen last season, the towering Jackson Van De Leest became the leading point producer on the backend this year, while Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop put together a solid campaign on offence despite being limited to just 15 games.
The Hitmen also got major contributions from two of their sophomores. Evan Toth was one point away from matching what he had done in 50 games a season earlier, while Tyson Galloway nearly cracked the double-digit point mark and might be a late round pick next month.
- Jack McNaughton (4-2-2 with a 3.49 GAA, an .889 save percentage and zero shutouts)
- Brayden Peters (6-6-1 with a 3.70 GAA, an .892 save percentage and one shutout)
- Ethan Buenaventura (4th round pick in 2019 – 1-0-0 with a 1.44 GAA, a .954 save percentage and zero shutouts with the Winnipeg Blues – 10-4-0 with a 2.96 GAA, an 8.90 save percentage and four shutouts with the Rink Hockey Academy prep team in 2019-20)
The battle for the starter’s job in Calgary has been an interesting one over the last couple of seasons. Carl Stankowski was brought in from Seattle to take the job in the summer of 2018, but Jack McNaughton ended up taking the reigns for the Hitmen during the 2019 post-season.
The following year saw Brayden Peters post better numbers than the returning McNaughton, but it wasn’t clear who was going to start for the team in the playoffs as they had split the netminding duties down the middle.
Both netminders were back with the Hitmen for the shortened season and once again ended up splitting time in goal. It will be interesting to see what the team decides to in between the pipes come next fall, especially with prospect Ethan Buenaventura waiting in the wings.
As the Hitmen enter the off-season, they do so with a new face in their front office as they hired former Everett Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson to serve as their director of player personnel after Dallas Thompson stepped down from the role after six seasons earlier this spring.
Although they still have to figure out who their overagers are going to be, the Hitmen look to have a pretty solid roster as they look to hopefully return to the Scotiabank Saddledome. With strong veterans and exciting young talent up and down the lineup, this team should easily make the playoffs before becoming a possible division winner in a couple years time.
Since they didn’t go all-in during the 2020 trade deadline, Calgary also has a lot of draft capital to work with going forward. They own the 12th overall pick for December’s prospect draft, along with their own third, fourth and fifth round selections, plus a fifth they acquired from Kelowna last year for Jonas Peterek.
They also have their own first, second, third and fifth round picks for 2022, so they have the assets needed to strengthen their squad if need be.