Monday, February 27, 2012

Kelowna Rockets 1 at Calgary Hitmen 2 - February 26, 2012


After a brief stop in Swift Current to get a few hours of sleep, I rejoined Highway 1 to make my way to Calgary, where the WHL's Hitmen were hosting Kelowna in a 4:00 start. The storm had stopped and the drive was clear until I arrived in Calgary, where it was snowing again (below), but that didn't prevent me or 9,500 others from making their way to the Saddledome.



I visited here for that horrible Leafs loss nearly two weeks ago and I won't bother reviewing it. For the WHL, the Press Level is closed off but the rest of the arena is open, and fans are scattered about. Tickets in the lower bowl are $23.75 in the lower bowl and $18.75 for the upper, which actually has better views if you can sit in the first few rows.


There is plenty of parking on the Stampede site for $13, which is very expensive for this level of hockey, considering every other rink I visited has no charge. You might be able to find free parking offsite, but I didn't have time to check around due to the early start. There was no problem getting out as this area is used to heavy crowds for the Stampede.

Food options are the same as for the NHL game, so overall, this can be an expensive event. That doesn't stop Calgarians from enjoying it though, the Hitmen are one of the top teams in junior in attendance, averaging 8,263 last season to top the league.

The Game

The Hitmen entered the game in 5th in the East, just a point behind Kootenay while the Rockets were a solid 6th in the West. They would be the only team from the Western Conference that I would see on this trip, and when I heard they were finishing up a stretch of 3 games in 3 nights, I expected them to be easy fodder for the Hitmen.



Things certainly started that way as Kelowna took a too-many-men penalty early on and Calgary converted when Jimmy Bubnick popped home a rebound on the ensuing power play. The Rockets didn't even get their first shot until the 7:46 mark and looked tired. I was sitting behind the Calgary net for this period (see picture above) and didn't see much action until Brett Bulmer (below, who spent time with the Wild earlier this year) took a pass from Madison Bowey and beat Brandon Glover (great name for a goalie!) to tie the game.


The second period was choppy with a couple of fights and several penalties, including a 5-on-3 for both teams. Calgary scored on theirs, but it was disallowed as Danny Gayle was impeding Kelowna keeper Jordon Cooke (below).


Kelowna again couldn't get a shot on net, this time going over 10 minutes before finally testing Glover (below). Neither team scored in the frame and we went to the third still knotted at 1.


The Rockets found their second wind in the third and took control of the game, outshootingCalgary 8-1 through the early part of the period, but Glover was solid in net. Near the midway mark, Alex Gogolev found Victor Rask (Carolina's 2nd pick in 2011, below) who managed to squeeze a shot under Cooke's arm to give the Hitmen the lead again.



That was all they needed. Kelowna had a couple of chances late but Glover blockered them away to preserve a tough 2-1 win. Kudos to Kelowna for putting up a fight (literally, there were 3 bouts in the game) despite playing their third game in as many nights. A good game to end the Canadian portion of the trip.

Notes

The name Hitmen is derived from founding owner Bret "The Hitman" Hart, although the team has been owned by the Flames since 1997, three years after the franchise was established.

I saw 7 WHL games on this trip and the home team won every one.

Next Up

I'm flying to LA today where I'll spend 3 days checking out a few different games, including the Timberwolves at the Clippers on Tuesday night as well as one or two NCAA baseball games. Check back tomorrow for another update.

Best,

Sean

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