GDB 1.0: A NEW HOPE
So here we are at long last. It seems like ages ago the Hurricanes played their last regular season game. Of course, at the time, the season ending was a relief. A sweet mercy killing that ended another dismal 72 games for the Hurricanes organization.
Much has happened between then and now. As we stand at the precipice of another season, all the chatter is on hope – renewed optimism. Thankfully, the time for chatter is over. It’s time to drop the puck. As a wise friend once said, “Do or do not, there is no try.”
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Tonight the Hurricanes will face their arch nemesis, the Medicine Hat Tigers. As fun as it is to relish in the fact that Lethbridge is a superior city and blessed by the gods with all the things the Hat’ lacks, the truth is that the Tigers have laid waste to the Hurricanes in almost every sense for years. The Tiger’s are a pillar of stability and strong management. They rarely seem to skip a beat and consistently produce high-end talent. Names like Boumeester, Pitlick, Ennis, Helm, Russell, Lupul, Barker, Shinkaruk, Etem, and Cox should ring a bell. The Tigers have managed to cultivate and produce NHL caliber talent seemingly at will. Their success goes beyond the on-ice talent.
Ex. coach Willie Desjardins (now with the Vancouver Canucks) was a huge part of establishing the Tigers as a WHL juggernaut. He did such a good job with the Tigers and with Hockey Canada that he deserved to move on to an NHL job. Fan’s in Medicine Hat knew that as long as Willie Dejardin’s was around, the Tiger’s would be competitive. Turns out that’s only half true, as the Tigers winning ways have continued since losing Desjardins.
Speaking of the fans – despite living in what can only be described as Southern Alberta’s 112 square kilometer dumpster fire – they are some of the best in the league. Tigers fans are loud, proud, and occasionally over the top. I, for instance, once saw an elderly Tigers fan verbally berate the family of a Hitmen player when the Tigers won a home playoff game in OT. It was troubling and amazing at the same time – like when you see a vulgar but hilariously bad tattoo. Can’t. Stop. Staring.
The point is that Tigers fans love their team and do a good job of letting everyone know.
If Lethbridge fans are Norah Jones, Tigers fans are Metallica (Hecklers excluded).
The Tigers should be good again this year but are not expected to be dominant. They boast a number of elite scorers including Cox and Sanford. In net, Nick Schneider should continue to supply the Tigers with solid netminding. It will be interesting to see how the year develops for the Tigers and what direction they choose to head. Earlier this week they traded a skilled player in Dryden Hunt to the Warriors in exchange for draft picks. Does that signify the Tigers view this as a transitional season? Only time will tell – but for the immediate future – the Tigers remain a team to be taken seriously.
As for the Hurricanes, they will be looking to start the season on a positive note. They played well in the preseason and there is no reason they can’t continue that heading into this weekend especially considering that both Andrew Nielsen and Georgio Estephan have returned to Lethbridge from NHL camps. Short of Carter Folk, who spent the majority of training camp injured, the Hurricanes will head into this weekend’s opening matches at full strength.
As I’m writing this, the Hurricanes roster remains at 26. While I anticipate that number to be cut down by at least two, possibly more, it is beginning to look like they will wait until after the opening set of games before they make further roster moves. If that’s the case, I expect we may see a slightly different roster Saturday night in Medicine Hat than we do tonight in Lethbridge. Win or lose, Kisio may elect to swap around the bubble players to give them one last chance to prove why they deserve to stay.
Projected Line Up:
It stands to reason that the Burke, Estephan, Wong line will start the season together. It should be fun to see how Estephan fares in his first action since returning from Sabres camp. It also appears as if Kisio will elect to keep Gutierrez between Babenko and Millette. While this line looked good at times in the preseason, I am curious to see if Gutierrez can pull his weight. He really surprised me with his offensive skill set in camp but doesn’t have the track record to prove he can do it for 72 games. Look for him to either flourish or be replaced by Bellerive, Vandervlis or Lindgren. I want to see him succeed and I like that the coaches are rewarding his play from preseason. Beyond the top two lines, I don’t know exactly who will start in the bottom six. Your guess is as good as mine.
Will they be comfortable with an all-rookie line?
Is Carter Folk a possibility or is he a few days away from returning?
Makes sense to me to pair Nielsen with Atwal and let those two eat up the lion’s share of minutes. They are both good puck movers, which should really help the forwards break out and transition to offense. Could be fun to watch. I have Pankewicz skating beside be import Merezhko. This is a pairing I have some huge question marks about. Merezhko isn’t fast or flashy, will he be able to hold his own? We know what Pankewicz is, but Merezhko remains an anomaly. It will be interesting to see things evolve. Finally, I think we will likely see Reagan paired up with Kennedy. Those two seem to play well together.
Where does that leave Watson, Allan, and Skeoch? Good question. Will they elect to dress a seventh defenseman and rotate him in? Will Kennedy sit in lieu of one of the others?
Unless they announce tonights rosters early in the day, we will have to wait until closer to game time to see what they decide.
I expect Skinner to start tonight and Sittler to go tomorrow. Like I wrote the other day, they seem to have confidence in both of these guys and it stands to reason they will get a solid performance regardless of who starts tonight.
- Expect the Canes to come out fired up but play sloppy. The home opener is always a tough game because of the nerves. A number of 16 year olds are going into this wide-eyed and nervous to begin with. A big crowd and opening ceremony usually doesn’t serve to help the nerves. While I expect they will get things together in the second, we may be looking at early territorial domination by the Tigers. Don’t worry though, the Tigers will be going through the same (or worse) tomorrow as they play the inaugural game at the Canalta Centre.
- If you’re planning to go to the game, remember to head down an hour or two early to take in some of the festivities. If the weather holds up, it promises to be a great evening for hockey.
- While many teams announced their rosters and captains yesterday, it seems more and more likely that the Hurricanes will elect to wait. I get the logic. It gives the coaches more time to assess the bubble players and the leadership of the dressing room. Could we see a younger player wear the C for the first time in a while, or will they elect to captain one of the overagers? Generally I feel we as fans and media tend to place too much emphasis on the role of captains to begin with. The title presupposes leadership and shouldn’t actually change much of anything. Leaders will lead regardless of the letter (or lack thereof) on their chest.
Game Day Prediction: The Hurricanes play hard but struggle to come back from an early deficit – ultimately losing 3-2 to the visiting Tigers.
Obvious Game Day Prediction: After struggling to get comfortable in the first, the Canes ease up on their sticks in the second and start to generate some nice flow. It results in a strong second period and a few goals.
Not So Obvious Game Day Prediction: The Hecklers Row crew get on the case of the Tigers bench bosses early and are asked to be quiet by Enmax staff. The Hurricanes later apologize to the Tigers for having loud fans and offer them a season’s supply of two-for-one Hawaiian Shaved Ice vouchers. Tigers players play the rest of the season with hilariously colour-dyed mouths.
What do you think? Who are you excited to watch tonight and what will be the outcome. Comment below.
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