RANKED: HURRICANES ALLTIME GREATEST IMPORT PLAYERS
Oh what a season 2015/16 has been. Tops in the Dub, tops in the Eastern Conference, and tops in the Central Division. These aren’t descriptors that I thought I would be applying to the Hurricanes this year, but here we are. One of the reasons for this success has been the stellar play of the Canes’ newest import find, Egor Babenko. His offensive abilities have really helped to solidify the Canes’ top lines and PP units, and while his play has tailed off of late, his overall impact cannot be denied.
Babenko’s play has led me to ponder the contributions of import players throughout the Canes’ history. As is seemingly natural when analyzing such things I started to craft a mental list of who I thought the all-time best import players have been for the local club.
The mental list gave way to a full blown write-up and here it is. My ranking of the five greatest Lethbridge Hurricane import players.
(Photo Credit: Tyler Mikla)
Egor Babenko has some seriously silky mitts (no offence to former Hurricane Harrison Harper and the Heckler’s Row gents, but Babenko has clearly earned this description). A lack of production from import players has been an ongoing issue for the Canes despite relatively favourable positions in the draft. Clearly, scouting and drafting of import players is difficult at the best of times, but in recent years we’ve watched the opposition come in to our barn with names like Leon Draisital, Ivan Provorov, or Julius Honka just to name a few.
Not only have players like these been important cogs for their respective teams, they’ve been true stars in the WHL, and many have gone on to lead successful NHL careers. Now, I’m not saying that Babenko’s name belongs up there with the likes of a Draisital, but he certainly has been an impact player this season and is one of several reasons for the reversal of fortune in Lethbridge.
Babenko’s play has led me to ponder the contributions of import players throughout the Canes’ history. As is seemingly natural when analyzing such things I started to craft a mental list of who I thought the all-time best import players have been for the local club. It’s been a tricky task. After all, how does one evaluate such players? Is it based purely on their contributions in a Hurricanes’ uniform? What about regular season success versus playoff success? Or do you consider the trajectory of their careers including time spent in various pro-leagues? Perhaps NHL success alone is the true measure?
The answer to these questions will vary greatly depending on the person answering as there is no established logarithm where you enter the data and out pops a result (perhaps there will be in the future as metrics become more commonplace). It’s a subjective exercise where each individual considers certain factors to be more important than others, and a fun one at that.
With that in mind, I decided to formally compile my list and share it with you, the readers of Canes Domain. Ultimately, I decided that contributions while wearing a Hurricanes jersey should be given the most weight while using the other factors as a form of tiebreaker. Maybe you’ll agree with my choices, maybe you won’t. Perhaps you would alter the rankings or include a different player on the list. Either way let’s get the conversation going. I invite you to critique my list and craft your own for sharing with other Caniacs. So here goes; counting down from number five.
#5 – RADEK DUDA
A native of the Czech Republic, this right winger only played one season for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, but what a season it was. In 1999/2000 Duda suited up in 69 games for the Hurricanes. He tallied 42 goals and 64 assists for a total of 106 points. That works out to a stellar 1.54 points per game average.
Unsurprisingly, he led the team in the scoring with those totals. He also won the club’s trophy for most 3 star awards that season. Duda was already a draft pick of the Calgary Flames when he joined the Hurricanes; however, he never suited up for an NHL game.
He’s been a journeyman pro playing around Europe for the better part of 2 decades and can still be seen playing in the Czech pro league. While it may have been a short time in “Lethvegas” for Duda, his outstanding play earns him the fifth spot on this list.
#4 – Tomas Kopecky
The 2nd right winger to make this list is the hulking native of Slovakia. At 6’3” – 203 lbs, Kopecky was big presence for the Canes who had no problem putting points on the board. Over the course of 109 games for the Canes, Kopecky piled up 56 goals and 70 assists for 126 points. The winger played big minutes for some pretty decent Hurricanes teams that featured other noteworthy players such as Nathan Barrett and Thomas Scantlebury.
Unfortunately, injuries limited his number of games played or those offensive totals would be markedly higher. Lethbridge made the playoffs in both of Kopecky’s seasons, but were eliminated in the first round each time. Kopecky was named Hurricanes Rookie of the Year in 2000/01 and received the 3 star award in 2001/02.
Kopecky was a 2nd round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings and he would go on to have a quality NHL career including 2 cup rings. If I was judging purely on NHL contributions, Kopecky would likely have topped this list. Tomas was a great contributor for the Canes over 2 seasons and his numbers, along with the playoff appearances, are why he shows up at number four.
#3 – Martin Hohenberger
We’re going back a bit with this selection. All the way back to 1995-1997. This native of Austria suited up for the most successful Canes team of all time, the 1997 WHL champions. Hohenberger was acquired late in the 1995-96 season from the Prince George Cougars.
In his first 20 games he put up a modest 5g-1a for 6 points. In his only full season in Lethbridge he found another level to his game. In 57 regular season games he tallied 26g-33a for 59 points. He followed that up with a better than point per game performance in the playoffs putting up 7g-13a in 19 games en route to the Canes only league title. Hohenberger brought a nice combination of size and skill to the 1996-97 Canes.
He helped to provide some needed scoring depth for a very talented team (one that featured players like Byron Ritchie and Kirby Law). He was physical when needed and had a deft touch around the net, which are qualities that you have to love in a hockey player. Hohenberger is getting the nod ahead of Duda and Kopecky due to his prominent role on the 97 squad. This is not just because of the WHL championship, though that figures prominently, but it is also because of May 13th game versus the Hull Olympiques at the Memorial Cup.
That has to be the single greatest game in Hurricanes history (and arguably one of, if not the best, in CHL history). The Canes were down to Hull 6-1 entering the final 20 minutes and stormed back to win 7-6 in OT. Absolutely scintillating! Hohenberger dropped the mitts in that one in an effort to fire his team up when they found themselves in a deep hole. That combination of size, skill, and the important role he played on the most successful Canes team of all time land Hohenberger at number 3 on my list.
#2 – Luca Sbisa
Sbisa could have easily taken the top spot on this list, but I’ve got him slotted in at number 2. The Italian born, Swiss national was an excellent defenceman during his time in Lethbridge. He is one of the better players to ever pull a Canes sweater over his head. He might be the best puck moving D-man that I’ve seen in Lethbridge.
Sbisa’s smooth skating ability allowed him to control the game from the back end, especially on the power play. He could wreak havoc when leading the rush and he handled the puck with supreme confidence. His numbers reflect this as he put up 61 points in 97 regular season games for the Hurricanes. Excellent totals for a rearguard. He was especially effective during the 2008 run to the WHL Championship series when he put up 15 points in 19 games.
That year’s success helped Sbisa to become the 19th overall pick in the NHL entry draft where he was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers. I remember the next season vividly as a slew of injuries to the Flyers D corps resulted in Sbisa spending 39 games in the NHL. Then came the news that got Canes fans all riled up, Sbisa was being returned to junior despite burning a year on his entry-level deal. I was elated, as were many others.
While the ’09 team was never quite as good as many hoped they would be, the first round playoff victory over Saskatoon was a phenomenal series. Sbisa was one of the primary reasons why Lethbridge were able to upset a supremely talented Blades team that had established a WHL single season record for most road victories (a team that was led by Braden Holtby). Additionally, Sbisa took home the hardware as the Hurricane ROY in 07/08.
Since then Sbisa seems to have found a fulltime home as part of the Vancouver Canucks’ top 6. He’s also been a significant contributor for Switzerland having represented them at a variety of events including the most recent Olympics in Sochi, Russia. You put all of that together and you get a high quality, minute-munching, puck moving defenceman in the number 2 slot on my list of best import players in Hurricanes’ history.
#1 – Juha Metsola
I’m going to be honest here and admit that I’m using my heart as well as my head on this one. Going into the 07/08 season I was a casual fan of the Hurricanes attending a few games here and there. Conversely, my wife comes from a family that were long-time season ticket holders and she was always talking to me about going to more games. Well, we made the decision to start doing so in the 2007/08 season.
What a time to get serious about the Canes. Simply put, Metsola was electric for the Hurricanes in his 2 year stint for the club. He came into that season as the Canes’ backup, but an injury to starter Michael Maniago (who was a great goaltender and a better person, R.I.P.) pushed Metsola into the spotlight and man oh man did he shine. He was a wall in net.
In his first season he appeared in 30 games, posting a 20-7-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .916 save percentage. He followed that up with 18 more playoff starts and helped the Hurricanes in claiming the 2008 WHL Eastern Conference Championship. In his second season with the Canes Metsola again put up good numbers. In 53 appearances he had 25-21-5 record with 2.80 GAA and .907 save percentage. He was selected to represent his native Finland at the IIHF U-20 Tournament. While the playoff run wasn’t as long, he did backstop the Canes to a first round-win over a very talented Saskatoon Blades team. That season Metsola was named the team’s co-MVP along with Zach Boychuk.
Arguably my favourite memories in the ENMAX Centre are of games in those playoffs runs with several thousand fans chanting JUHA, JUHA, JUHA in unison. It gave me chills, although truth be told I always wished it had been a drawn out JJJJJJUUUUHHHHAAAA chant instead, but I digress. Metsola earns the top spot on this list because of his outstanding play and the response he garnered from the fans, especially this one.
He was one of the main determining factors in my decision to become a season ticket holder, which I have been ever since. Many a hockey analyst has stated that good teams are built from the net out, and that’s how it was during the Metsola years. It was a treat to watch him for 2 years. Metsola is currently playing for Khabarovsk Amur of the KHL and putting some good numbers!
So there you have it folks. My list of the top 5 import players in Hurricanes history. Let me know what you think. Will Babenko end up on a future edition of this list? Time will tell, but with the way he’s been playing it wouldn’t surprise me.
Professional student, prospective teacher. Red Wings/Blue Jays/49ers super-fan. Proud general manager of Team Mono and the Slumlords in a pair of fantasy hockey keeper leagues. Is there anything better than soup and sandwich? Twitter: @jsvsakamoto.