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2005 playoff game against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
The Calgary Hitmen are a major junior ice hockey team based in Calgarymarker, Albertamarker, Canadamarker. The Hitmen play in the Western Hockey League (WHL). They play their home games at the Pengrowth Saddledomemarker. Their name is derived from local-born professional wrestler Bret "The Hitman" Hart, a founding owner. Established in 1994, the team has been owned by the Calgary Flames hockey club since 1997. They are the third WHL team to represent Calgary, preceded by the Centennials and Wranglers.

The Hitmen have finished three times with the best record in the WHL, and have qualified for the playoffs every season since 1998. In 1999, they became the first Calgary team to win the President's Cup as league champions, and the first to represent Calgary in the Memorial Cup since the Calgary Canadians won the national junior title in 1926. The Hitmen hold numerous WHL attendance records, and in 2004–05 became the first team in the Canadian Hockey League to average 10,000 fans per game. Twenty-nine former Hitmen players have gone on to play in the National Hockey League.

Franchise history

Graham James left his position as coach and general manager of the Swift Current Broncos to found the Hitmen in 1994. James organized a group of eighteen investors in the club, including star National Hockey League players Theoren Fleury and Joe Sakic along with Bret Hart, famous for his exploits in the World Wrestling Federation. The Calgary Flames, who had just assumed control of the then Olympic Saddledome (now Pengrowth Saddledomemarker) and were looking to fill extra dates in the building, were receptive to the new team.

Calgary had been without a WHL team since 1987, when the Calgary Wranglers moved south to become the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The league's expansion into Calgary was met with skepticism, as the league had previously avoided Western Canada's largest markets of Vancouvermarker, Edmontonmarker, Calgary and Winnipegmarker, because all previous teams there repeatedly failed in each market against the NHL.

Controversial beginnings

The club selected its name and logo as an homage to local wrestler and patron Bret "The Hitman" Hart. The team's distinctive pink, grey and black jerseys were also modeled after Hart's ring attire. The logo proved immensely popular and Hitmen merchandise sold well at many local retailers. However, the name and logo were subject to heavy criticism from segments of the public and the business community, who panned both as negative stereotypes of violence within the sport. Among the chief critics of the new logo was the Flames organization, who argued that they had received calls from concerned business people, who agreed the name and logo brought up connotations of violence. Struggling to attract corporate sponsors, the Hitmen chose to scrap the "Jason Voorhees"-style logo in favour of an alternate "starburst" logo just two months after it was unveiled. The club brought the original logo back in 1996.

The Hitmen entered their first season playing in the newly-formed Central Division, and were predicted to finish as high as third in the five-team division. Instead, they finished as the second-worst regular season team in the league, finishing with an 18–51–3 record. The Hitmen lost CAD$250,000 in their first season and saw their season ticket base halved to 700 for the 1996–97 season. The losses lead to questions about the viability of the club.

Citing personal reasons, James resigned as coach and general manager on September 5, 1996, stunning the organization. Two days later, the Calgary Police Service revealed that James was being investigated on allegations he sexually abused two former players while he was with the Swift Current Broncos. James was eventually charged, and in the month of January 1997, he plead guilty to two counts of sexual assault. Upon James' conviction, and sentencing to 3½ years in prison, the Hitmen attempted to distance themselves from their former coach.

The Hitmen struggled on the ice as well, again missing the playoffs after falling to a record of 15–53–4. The spectre of the Graham James scandal hurt the franchise. The original investors, many of whom played for or were otherwise associated with James, sold the team to the Flames for approximately $1.5 million in June 1997. It was widely speculated that the new owners would change the team name, possibly to the Junior Flames. The Hitmen name was nevertheless retained by the club, along with a new colour scheme and updated logo.

Western Hockey League Championship

Dean Clark took over the club early the previous season as head coach, and led the 1997–98 Hitmen to a remarkable turnaround. The team improved to a 40–28–4 record and first place finish in the Central Division, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. During the playoffs, the Hitmen defeated the Saskatoon Blades and Swift Current Broncos to reach the Eastern Conference final before falling to the Brandon Wheat Kings. Clark was awarded the Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy as WHL Coach of the Year as well as the Canadian Hockey League's Brian Kilrea Coach of the Year Award. Calgary improved to 51–13–8 in 1998–99, finishing one point ahead of the Kamloops Blazers for the regular season title. Led by Brad Moran, Pavel Brendl and goaltender Alexandre Fomitchev, the Hitmen lost just five games in the playoffs en route to their first President's Cup, at home, before a WHL playoff record crowd of 17,139. The Hitmen became the first Calgary-based team to qualify for the Memorial Cup since the Calgary Canadians in 1926.

In the 1999 Memorial Cup, the Hitmen opened their tournament with a 5–3 victory over the Ontario Hockey League's Belleville Bulls, followed by a 4–3 loss to the host Ottawa 67's. The Hitmen followed with a 3–1 win over the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Finishing atop the round robin standings, the Hitmen earned a bye into the championship game, and a rematch against the 67's. The championship game was a back-and-forth affair. Ottawa held 4–1 and 6–5 leads, while Calgary led 5–4 at one point and tied the game late to send it to overtime. The Hitmen fell short of winning the title however, as Ottawa's Matt Zultek won the game 1:58 into overtime. Brendl and Matt Kinch were named to the Memorial Cup All-Star team.

The Hitmen entered the 1999–2000 season with a strong squad, along with expectations at making another run to a Memorial Cup. The club finished the regular season with a record of 58–12–2–2, once again winning the regular season title. The team set franchise records for victories (58) and points (120), which stood until the 2008–09 year. After sweeping the Moose Jaw Warriors and Saskatoon Blades, the Hitmen were upset by the Kootenay Ice in the Eastern Conference final, falling four games to one.

Recent years

Hitmen mascot, Farley the Fox.
Entering a rebuilding period, the Hitmen finished third or fourth in the Central Division between 2001 and 2004, winning only one playoff series during that time. The Hitmen acquired goaltender Justin Pogge from the Prince George Cougars during the 2004–05 season. Pogge's goaltending, along with the offensive leadership of forward Andrew Ladd, saw the Hitmen win their first playoff series in four years. They could not follow up on their victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes, however, losing their second round series against the Brandon Wheat Kings in seven games.

The Hitmen were heavily marketed by the Flames during the National Hockey League's 2004–05 lockout. As a result, the Hitmen averaged 10,062 fans per game and set a new league attendance record. The season total of 362,227 fans smashed the old record by over 45,000. The Hitmen became the first Canadian Hockey League team to average over 10,000 fans per game, having the highest average attendance of any junior or professional team in North America that year.

The 2005–06 Hitmen battled the Medicine Hat Tigers for the top spot in the Western Hockey League for most of the season. Calgary finished with 101 points, their best total since 1999–00, however, finishing two points behind Medicine Hat for the best record in the league. The team again disappointed in the playoffs, falling to the Moose Jaw Warriors in the Eastern Conference semi-final. Pogge's performance during the season earned him honours as both the WHL player of the year and CHL goaltender of the year. Calgary fell to third in the Central Division in 2006–07. In the playoffs, they upset the Kootenay Ice, who finished 19-points ahead of Calgary in the regular season. The Hitmen then defeated the East Division champion Brandon Wheat Kings to reach the Eastern Conference final for the fourth time in franchise history, where they were subsequently defeated by the Tigers.

The Hitmen entered the 2007–08 season with expectations of being strong contenders, voted the pre-season pick to finish atop the Eastern Conference by the league's coaches and general managers. The team lived up to expectations, winning the Central Division, and finishing with the best record in the East for the first time since 2000. During a late season game, Calgary broke the league's single-game attendance record, as an announced crowd of 19,305 watched Calgary defeat Kootenay by a score of 6 goals to 1. In the playoffs, the Hitmen defeated the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos in six games apiece, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals for the second consecutive season.

Following the graduation of several players, including Karl Alzner, who was named both WHL player of the year and CHL defenceman of the year, the 2008–09 Hitmen were expected to enter a rebuilding period. Instead, they captured the franchise's third Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as the regular season champion, earning the top seed in the playoffs. The team tied or broke 21 franchise records during the regular season, including wins (59), points (122) and goals for (334). Joel Broda led the league with 53 goals, while Brandon Kozun and Brett Sonne finished 2nd and 3rd in league scoring with 108 and 100 points respectively; it was only the second time in franchise history that two players topped the 100-point mark in the same season. In the playoffs, the Hitmen won 12 straight games, sweeping the Oil Kings, Hurricanes and Wheat Kings to reach the WHL finals for the first time since 1999. In the finals, they were stunned by the Kelowna Rockets, losing the first three games of the series before winning the next two to extend the series to a sixth game. The Hitmen lost game six in overtime, and the series 4–2, to end their season. Sonne was named WHL Player of the Year, while General Manager Kelly Kisio was named Executive of the Year for the second time in recognition of the Hitmen's season.

Community impact

The Hitmen are active within the community, supporting numerous programs and charities. They host an annual teddy bear toss each December. The 13th annual Petro Canada Teddy Bear Toss, held on December 2, 2007, saw what the Hitmen claim to be a world record 26,919 bears tossed on to the ice by 17,341 fans. The bears are donated to charities throughout the Calgarymarker area. A few of the bears are personally delivered by the players to the Alberta Children's Hospitalmarker, an event highly anticipated by patients attending the hospital.

The Hitmen are also partners with the Calgary Board of Education and their Read On! Literacy for Life program. Author Sigmund Brouwer has released numerous young adult oriented mystery novels that centre around the team and fictitious Hitmen players. The ninth book in the series, titled Hitmen Star, was published in 2008. Copies of the books are distributed to sixth grade students throughout Calgary and southern Albertanmarker schools; with Hitmen and former National Hockey League players helping to encourage students to take an active interest in reading.

Season-by-season record

Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, OTL = Overtime losses, SOL = Shootout losses, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against

Season GP W L T OTL GF GA Points Finish Playoffs
1995–96 72 18 51 3 222 359 39 5th Central Out of playoffs
1996–97 72 15 53 4 199 360 34 4th Central Out of playoffs
1997–98 72 40 28 4 265 232 84 1st Central Lost Eastern Conference final
1998–99 72 51 13 8 319 187 110 1st Central Won Championship; Lost Memorial Cup final
1999–00 72 58 10 2 2 313 182 120 1st Central Lost Eastern Conference final
2000–01 72 37 27 5 3 284 250 82 3rd Central Lost Eastern Conference semi-final
2001–02 72 33 33 5 1 271 281 72 3rd Central Lost Eastern Conference quarter-final
2002–03 72 27 36 7 2 240 260 63 4th Central Lost Eastern Conference quarter-final
2003–04 72 34 24 8 6 220 187 82 3rd Central Lost Eastern Conference quarter-final
2004–05 72 34 23 9 6 200 183 83 3rd Central Lost Eastern Conference semi-final
Season GP W L OTL SOL GF GA Points Finish Playoffs
2005–06 72 47 18 3 4 195 155 101 2nd Central Lost Eastern Conference semi-final
2006–07 72 39 26 3 4 251 205 85 3rd Central Lost Eastern Conference final
2007–08 72 47 20 1 4 259 166 99 1st Central Lost Eastern Conference final
2008–09 72 59 9 3 1 330 159 122 1st Central Lost final


Players

Current roster

Goaltenders
# align=left Player Born Hometown Drafted
1 Michael Snider 1991 De Winton, Albertamarker Eligible 2010
31 Martin Jones 1990 North Vancouver, British Columbia Signed by LA
33 Chase Komistek 1992 Medicine Hat, Albertamarker Eligible 2010


Defencemen
# align=left Player Born Place of birth Drafted
2 Ben Wilson 1991 Calgarymarker, Albertamarker Eligible 2010
3 Erik Bonsor 1991 Calgary, Albertamarker Eligible 2010
4 Ryan Kerr 1989 Lions Bay, British Columbia Free Agent
5 Matt MacKenzie 1991 Calgarymarker, Albertamarker Eligible 2010
6 Austin Madaisky 1992 Surrey, British Columbiamarker Eligible 2010
7 Peter Kosterman 1993 Calgarymarker, Albertamarker Eligible 2011
9 Jaynen Rissling 1993 Edmontonmarker, Albertamarker Eligible 2011
27 Kyle Aschim 1990 Saskatoonmarker, Saskatchewanmarker Eligible 2010
28 Michael Stone 1990 Winnipeg, Manitobamarker PHX – 3rd round 2008


Forwards
# align=left Player Position Born Place of birth Drafted
8 Cody Gross LW 1989 Winnipegmarker, Manitobamarker Free Agent
10 Misha Fisenko C 1990 Magnitogorskmarker, Russiamarker Eligible 2010
11 Chase Schaber C 1991 Red Deer, Albertamarker Eligible 2010
12 Justin Kirsch LW 1992 Chilliwack, British Columbiamarker Eligible 2010
14 Jessi Hilton RW 1991 Sherwood Park, Albertamarker Eligible 2010
15 Brandon Kozun C 1990 Calgarymarker, Albertamarker LA - 6th round 2009
16 Cody Sylvester C 1992 Kelowna, British Columbiamarker Eligible 2010
18 Kris Foucault W 1990 Calgarymarker, Albertamarker MIN - 4th round 2009
19 Ian Schultz RW 1990 Calgary, Albertamarker STL – 3rd round 2008
21 John Lawrence LW 1992 Newdale, Manitoba Eligible 2010
22 MacKenzie Royer LW 1992 Spruce Grove, Albertamarker Eligible 2011
23 Tyler Fiddler LW 1990 Prince Albert, Saskatchewanmarker Eligible 2010
24 Jason MacDonald C 1989 Calgarymarker, Albertamarker Free Agent
25 Rigby Burgart LW 1990 Fort St. James, British Columbiamarker Eligible 2010
26 Joel Broda C 1989 Prince Albert, Saskatchewanmarker WAS – 5th round 2008
32 Cody Beach RW 1992 Kelowna, British Columbiamarker Eligible 2010


NHL alumni

Thirty-six players have been selected from the Hitmen roster at the National Hockey League's entry drafts. Of those, nine players were selected in the first round. The highest drafted players in club history were Pavel Brendl (1999) and Andrew Ladd (2004). Both players were selected fourth overall. Four players were selected in the 2007 draft: Karl Alzner (5th overall to Washington), Alex Plante (15th overall to Edmonton), Brett Sonne (3rd round to St. Louis) and Carson McMillan (7th round to Minnesota).

Twenty-nine former Hitmen players have gone on to play in the National Hockey League. The first was Ryan Bast, who played two games with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1998–99. In the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, Ladd became the first Hitmen graduate to win the Cup, winning it along with fellow teammates of the Carolina Hurricanes. The feat was repeated one year later by Ladd's former teammate, Ryan Getzlaf, who won it with the Anaheim Ducks. One former player has had his number retired by the Hitmen. Brad Moran, the franchise's all-time leading scorer, had his number 20 retired in 2005.



Head coaches

Dean Clark has thus far been the most successful coach for the Calgary Hitmen. Clark coached 333 regular season games from October 1996 until the end of the 2000–01 season. During that time, he was the most successful coach in terms of wins in the Western Hockey League, and was subsequently named the Canadian Hockey League's Coach of the Year in 1997–98. Clark led the Hitmen to three division titles, two regular season titles, one league championship, and coached the Hitmen to their first Memorial Cup final. Kelly Kisio is the team's former head coach from the 2004–05 season to the end of the 2007–08 season, a role he shared with Dean Evason in his first year at the helm of the Hitmen. Kisio stepped down as coach in 2008, naming former assistant Dave Lowry, as head coach for the 2008–09 season. Kisio has been the team's general manager since the beginning of the 1998–99 season.

# Name Dates Notes
1 Graham James 1995–96 Resigned prior to 1996–97 season
2 Jim Currie 1996 Interim head coach
3 Dean Clark 199601 1998 WHL, CHL Coach of the Year
4 Richard Kromm 200104
5 Dean Evason 2004–05 Co-coach with Kelly Kisio
6 Kelly Kisio 20042008
7 Dave Lowry 20082009


Club records

Season
Individual

Team
  • Most wins: 59, 2008–09
  • Most points: 122, 2008–09
  • Most goals for: 330, 2008–09
  • Fewest goals against: 155, 2005–06


Career
  • Most goals: 204, Brad Moran, 1995–00
  • Most assists: 246, Brad Moran, 1995–00
  • Most points: 450, Brad Moran, 1995–00
  • Most penalty minutes: 704, Mike Egener, 2000–04
  • Most games played, individual: 357, Brad Moran, 1995–2000
  • Best goals against average: 1.92, Justin Pogge, 2004–06
  • Most shutouts: 13, Justin Pogge, 2004–06
  • Most games played, goaltender: 179, Dan Spence, 2004–08
  • Most saves, goaltender: 4,017, Dan Spence, 2004–08


Awards and honours

The Calgary Hitmen have captured numerous awards during the franchise's history. Hitmen players have been named the WHL's most outstanding player twice in the past three seasons. Defenceman Karl Alzner won the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy in 2007–08 along with being named the defenceman of the year, while goaltender Justin Pogge was named player and goaltender of the year in 2005–06. Pogge was also named the top goaltender in the nation by the Canadian Hockey League. As a whole, the Hitmen have won the Eastern Division five times, and three times have been the regular season champions of the Western Hockey League.

President's Cup

Western Hockey League champion

Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy

Regular season champion

Central Division titles

Four Broncos Memorial Trophy

Player of the year

Bob Clarke Trophy

Top scorer

Daryl K. Seaman Trophy

Scholastic player of the year

Brad Hornung Trophy

Most sportsmanlike player


Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy

Defenceman of the year

CHL Defenceman of the Year

Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy

Rookie of the year




Notes

See also



References

  • Standings and team records
  • Roster


External links






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