The Calgary Hitmen closed out their year and decade on a high note Monday, beating the league-leading Edmonton Oil Kings by a 5-3 score in Canadian Hockey League action on Sportsnet.
Going in search of a spark, the Hitmen found it thanks to a three-goal second period, though they had to battle through adversity throughout the game before earning the pair of points.
“I thought we played a pretty good team game,” said Hitmen head coach Steve Hamilton. “To come away with two points, that’s important for us.
“The guys responded well and it was good to see.”
Just 94 seconds into the match, 2020 NHL Draft prospect Jake Neighbours redirected an Ethan Cap shot into the front area of the net to give the visitors an early lead. However, the Hitmen had a response shortly after as a harmless-looking shot on net by Vancouver Canucks prospect Carson Focht from just to the outside of the face-off circle beat Sebastian Cossa to tie things up.
The game began to heat up un the second thanks to a combined five goals in a 14:59 span of gameplay. Opening the scoring in the period was Sean Tschigerl, who found himself in the right spot at the right time.
At the top of the zone near the boards, James Malm dished the puck off to Tyson Galloway, who put the puck on net with a long shot. While the initial save was made, it was Tschigerl’s moment to shine as he was on the doorstep and ready to deposit the rebound into the net to give the Hitmen their first lead of the game.
Scoring next for the Hitmen, rookie defenceman Evan Toth was the beneficiary of a sweet set up from teammate Riley Fiddler-Schultz for his first-ever Western Hockey League goal. Fiddler-Schultz took a pass from Malm and broke out of his own zone, carrying the puck into Edmonton’s end and drawing all the attention from Edmonton’s defence. Just before he took a hit from a trailing Edmonton skater, Fiddler-Schultz dished the puck across the ice to Toth, who was wide open and tickled the twine with a quick in-and-out goal that made it 3-1.
“It’s really nice to get that first one and the guys have been really supportive,” Toth said. “It feels really good.”
While they would eventually take the loss, the Oil Kings showed plenty of resolve in the middle frame after going down by a pair of goals. With 5:55 left in the period, Tyler Horstmann controlled the puck into the zone before dropping off a short pass to Vladimir Alistrov. Using a Hitmen defender as a partial screen, Alistrov beat Jack McNaughton short side to bring the Oil Kings within a goal.
Bringing the Oil Kings level minutes later was Josh Williams, who took control of the puck along the boards, created room for himself at the top of the zone and put himself into the high slot before wiring the puck into the net.
Despite the change in score, the Hitmen bounced back perfectly once again. On the tail end of a four-on-three power play less than a minute later, they worked a perfect series of passes before connecting down low with Orca Wiesblatt for the easy tip-in to restore their lead.
That’d be all the scoring until the middle of the third, when the Hitmen received an insurance goal courtesy of Canucks prospect Jett Woo. On the power play, Woo put the puck through a maze of bodies and into the back of the net.
From there, McNaughton would hold the Oil Kings silent for the rest of the third period, finishing with 12 saves on 12 shots in the frame and 29 stops overall.
The impact of the team’s youth movement wasn’t lost on captain Mark Kastelic either as the team were missing some key parts of their lineup heading into the match.
“Today was unreal for the young guys that stepped up big for us,” said Kastelic. “[Toth] and Galloway both getting on the scoreboard there and gave our team a huge boost.
“When you see guys like that stepping up, it brings a lot more life to the team.”
As a special moment as well, Kastelic’s assist on the game-winning goal was the 200th point of his WHL career.
Both teams will resume play on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 on home ice. The Hitmen will play host to the Medicine Hat Tigers while the Oil Kings will welcome the Everett Silvertips to Alberta’s provincial capital.