Pats host Hitmen to open season series in WHL on Access action


Calgary Hitmen (6-11-3-0) at Regina Pats (11-6-2-0)
Wednesday, November 15 – Brandt Centre 7 p.m. (Central)

Access7 SD, Access 70 HD, WHL Live


Two teams in search of a much-needed two points will meet Wednesday at the Brandt Centre when the Regina Pats host the Calgary Hitmen.

It’s certainly not a matter of do-or-die, but with the Pats in a wildcard spot and the Hitmen sitting in the second-last spot in the Eastern Conference, both are below where they feel they should be at this point in the season.

For the visiting Hitmen, their success has been coming in bunches, but not as frequently as they would like.  They’re coming off a tough 6-5 loss in overtime Tuesday in Brandon, their third loss in a row. Before that they swept a home-and-home against the Lethbridge Hurricanes, and lost three more games before that.

A 6-11-3-0 through 20 games, the Hitmen are fifth in the East Division, yet still only two points out of a playoff spot, which magnifies how important it is for the Hitmen to start picking up points consistently.

Overall, the Hitmen are ranked 20th in the league, they’ve maintained the fourth-best penalty kill in the WHL (82.6 per cent), ranking them alongside the fine company of league powerhouses like the Moose Jaw Warriors and Portland Winterhawks.

Matteo Gennaro is producing at a point-per-game pace with 23 points (12G-11A) in 20 games. Vladislav Yeryomenko is having a stellar second season with the Hitmen, sitting second on the team in points and is poised to set new career-highs after a 25-points rookie campaign. Fellow blue liner Jake Bean is fresh off of representing the WHL in the first two games of the 2017 CIBC Canada Russia Series and is so far producing at the best rate of his career, though it’s obviously still early in the season.

Based on the Hitmen’s record, it has yet to start adding up in the win column however. Nick Schneider has started the last five games for the Hitmen. You could reckon then that it makes sense to give Schneider a night off and put Matthew Armitage in for the third game of a five-game road trip.

Schneider has actually performed well in net, going 3-0-1-0 with a 0.922 SV% and  in four starts when playing the second half of back-to-back games this season, though with games against the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos coming up, how the Hitmen handle their goaltending could go a long way in measuring their success.

They’ll certainly be in tough against the Warriors and the Broncos, but the Pats are not to be overlooked despite the positioning or record. Entering play last Friday, the Pats sat second in the division and if not for the superb goaltending of Brody Willms, the Pats may find themselves in the division lead as they enter this game.

The Pats will get to debut their newest acquisition, Montreal Canadiens prospect Cale Fleury, to the hometown crowd after a trade with the Kootenay ICE Monday. His presence on the backend should help to shore up what deficiencies John Paddock saw in his roster as they fight to compete in a tough East Division, Eastern Conference and the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup at the end of the season.

How Fleruy adjusts to the Pats’ system could be a turning point in the team’s season while his offensive contributions — 10 points (6G-4A) in 17 games with the ICE — will no doubt be welcomed too.

For the price Paddock had to pay, Fleury will no doubt be the team’s biggest addition this season, but until this year’s trade deadline, the looming question will linger of if Paddock has another big acquisition or two in mind to help stock up for the stretch drive, WHL playoffs and 100th edition of Canada’s most prestigious junior hockey championship.

How the final version of the 2017-18 Regina Pats looks and meshes together is an entirely different story. Like the Hitmen, they have a stockpile of great individual pieces but it hasn’t yet materialized into the consistency that the Pats would hope for. When it comes to WHL on Access broadcasts though, the Pats have brought their best, going 4-1-1 through the first six games of this year’s broadcast schedule. Returning to the primetime tonight and with three more broadcasts in December, who knows what kind of a spark that’ll provide for the Pats.

It seems unreasonable to expect the Pats, like any other team, to win every game they play. But if the Pats want to stay in a favourable position in their division and conference, they’d do well to pick up more wins soon, especially when dealing with three other strong teams in their division.

Tied for ninth in both goals-for and goals against this season, that should be producing some level of success, but in one of the toughest divisions in the WHL, that won’t count for much.

Be sure to tune in to see the Pats and their new-look defence host the Calgary Hitmen tonight in WHL on Access action!

Calgary Hitmen

Record: 6-11-3-0
Head coach: Dallas Ferguson
Leading scorers: C Matteo Gennaro (12-11-23); D Vladislav Yeryomenko (6-12-18); LW Jakob Stukel (10-7-17)
Leading goaltender: Nick Schneider (17 GP, 6-8-3-0, 3.38 GAA, .891 SV%)
Power play: 20th – 16.3 per cent
Penalty kill: Fourth – 82.6 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: LW Beck Malenstyn (upper body, two-to-four weeks)

Regina Pats

Record: 11-6-2-0
Head coach: John Paddock
Leading scorers: C Matt Bradley (15-11-26); RW Emil Oksanen (10-13-23); C Sam Steel (5-14-19)
Leading goaltender: Tyler Brown (16 GP, 8-5-2-0, 2.80 GAA, .902 SV%)
Power play: Fourth – 28 per cent
Penalty kill: 19th – 72.9 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: LW Austin Wagner (upper body, week-to-week)

Season series
Nov. 15 – Calgary at Regina*
Dec. 3 – Regina at Calgary
Jan. 13 – Calgary at Regina
Mar. 3 – Regina at Calgary

* Indicates WHL on Access broadcast.

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