Thursday, April 23, 2009


Here's a confession for you: I grew up a comic book dork. A Big time nerdo, that's me.

Spider-man, The X-Men and all the other Marvel titles especially although as I got older and moved to the the city where actual comic book stores existed I discovered titles like Grendel, Watchmen and Sin City.

The big dude pictured here is Cain Marko, better known as The Unstoppable Juggernaut. At the risk of going all-out geek on you... The Juggernaut was one of the absolute toughest dudes in the Marvel Comics universe. Once he started moving he'd use his momentum and nothing could stop him - buildings, tanks, bombs, the Hulk... nothing.

That's kind of how I see the Calgary Hitmen right now.

The #1 ranked CHL team has reached the league championship with a perfect 12-0 record after steamrolling over the Edmonton Oil Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes and now the Brandon Wheat Kings. Calgary completed their 4-game sweep of Brandon yesterday on the strength of a 6-4 road victory.

A perfect 12 game streak is impressive, even more so considering the teams they have beaten along the way. The Hurricanes with Luca Sbisa, Zach Boychuk, Kyle Beach, Carter Ashton and Colton Sceviour were expected to give the Hitmen a run for their money and yet arguably were not as tough of a challenge as Edmonton presented in round 1.

The Wheat Kings had reached the Conference final riding an unblemished playoff record of their own and people wondered if they might be the team to bring Calgary back down to Earth but that didn't happen.

What is the most impressive thing to me about Calgary is that although the quality of their opposition is naturally getting stronger as the playoffs advance, they see to be getting that much better as well.

The Hitmen scored 15 goals against Edmonton, 19 times against Lethbridge and then struck for 24 goals versus the Wheaties. They had only allowed a total of 7 goals against through the Edmonton and Lethbridge rounds but Brandon was finally able to show that Calgary can be scored on, finding the back of the net 14 times... not that it led to a better fate.

How are they doing it? With unbelievable depth.

Eleven players have at least 10 points through the 12 games Calgary has played to date and four of them are defencemen. Joel Broda (WSH), the only 50-goal scorer in the WHL this year, leads the team with 18 points. Often overlooked Kyle Bortis (UFA) is right behind Broda with 17 points. Brandon Kozun, who went undrafted last year but will get picked up this June, has continued his strong 108-point seasonal play.

Kris Foucault has come out of nowhere (tier I) earlier this season to become an impact player with the Hitmen. He only played 26 regular season games this year but has been money in the playoffs and his offence has been coming in bunches. He's only been held of the score sheet in 3 of the 12 playoff games but 8 of his 14 points have come in 3 other games.

He missed a few games due to an undisclosed injury but Brett Sonne (STL) still has 10 points in 8 contests. Fellow Blues draft pick Ian Schultz has been a catalyst as has Carson McMillan (MIN).

Dean and I have spoken often about the strength of Calgary's back end but when I look and see that Alex Plante (EDM) is leading the group in scoring - I have to admit being surprised. Plante (pictured) has become known more for his defensive play but with 11 points he's also showing the ability to contribute at the other end of the rink too.

Recently signed Paul Postma (ATL) is tied with Plante in scoring although they were separated by almost 40 points during the regular season. Postma is considered by some as Calgary's MVP so teams are likely keying on him which might account for a bit of a dip in production.

Keith Seabrook (WSH) also has 11 points after a solid 55-point campaign. Michael Stone (PHX) rounds out the top four on the blueline and has 10 points under his belt.

Between the pipes you find Martin Jones (LA) who hasn't been nearly as forgettable as his common-man name. He's got a 1.73 GAA and a .917 sv% which are good but not over-the-top mind-blowing like we've seen some WHL goalies produce in the past (see Dustin Tokarski, Chet Pickard and Tyson Sexsmith in 2008).

Calgary now sits and waits to see who survives the Vancouver/Kelowna series and either opponent should, on paper, have what it takes to legitimately challenge the Hitmen. But considering the speed bumps that Calagry turned Lethbridge and Brandon into, I'll believe it when I see it.

I called it back in March - I said the Hitmen are the best team in the CHL, my pick to not only be WHL Champs but to win the Memorial Cup and I've seen absolutely nothing to make me change my mind. They are an Unstoppable Juggernaut and only getting better.

(photos courtesy: Calgary Hitmen, WHL, Marvel Comics)


Zombie Ned Flanders said...

As an Oilers fan, it's nice to hear that Plante is playing well!

Guy Flaming said...

The hat is a nice sign too.

Doogie2K said...

I've noticed on a few occasions Hitmen players wearing their NHL garb after games -- Plante in the Oilers T-shirt, Jones in a Kings turtleneck. I like it.

What bothers me, and I wrote about it on my own site, is that the Hitmen have at times gotten sloppy and it's led to games being a lot more interesting than they have to be. Brandon is a damned good team, and they took advantage of every opportunity Calgary gave them. As I said over there, I wonder if the fact that they are such a dominant team, and can hang a half-dozen goals on you in rapid succession, has lulled them into a false sense of security. They're saying the right things, but they aren't necessarily doing the right things on the ice, not for the full 60 minutes. When they do, they're scary good, and I can definitely see them winning it all, but I remain concerned about what happens when they don't. Hitmen radio voice Brad Curle said at the start of the playoffs that the only way the Hitmen lose is if they beat themselves, and while they haven't done it yet, they came close a couple of times in the Brandon series.

Random fact that bears pointing out: the last team to beat the Hitmen on home ice was the Kelowna Rockets, in a stifling 2-0 game. I see that the Rockets have pitched back-to-back shutouts on the Giants. Not sayin', just sayin' Oilers-fandom-bred pessimism/irrational nervousness remains intact despite the triple sweep. Besides, someone's got to temper all this damned enthusiasm, or the hockey gods are gonna get bitchy. ;)

Doogie2K said...

I dunno, I suspect part of my problem is that I'm allergic to being the favourite, having followed the Oilers and Canadiens since the early '90s, and only gotten one surprise* Cup and one surprise Cup final run out of it. I'm uncomfortable with it, and it makes me go looking for flaws instead of enjoying it.

* - okay, not so much, because the Adams Division was insane that year, but you take my meaning.