Calgary, AB – The Calgary Hitmen struggled to look pretty in pink on Sunday afternoon at the Scotiabank Saddledome as they were upended by the Kelowna Rockets 4-1.
“I didn’t think we did a very good job managing the puck and getting it in behind their defence,” said Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson. “We talked a lot about Kelowna being a hard working team that you have to get pucks in behind their defence and match that work ethic. Three of their goals were a result of turnovers and that was our game tonight.”
After falling on Friday and Saturday in the first two games of their three-games in three-nights set, Calgary attempted to salvage this weekend as they celebrated their fourth annual Hitmen Fight Cancer game in support of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation – Prairies/NWT Region. New this year, the campaign will also support the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta and for the first time in Scotiabank Saddledome history, Calgary painted the rink pink.
With a number of forwards out of the line-up, newcomer Brendan Hurley played his first three contests of the season for the Hitmenthis weekend and made an impact on the scoreboard Sunday.
Calgary opened the scoring less than five minutes into the first frame. A perimeter shot by Josh Thrower was stopped by Jordan Cooke, but on the rebound Hurley buried his first of the season over the shoulder of the Kelowna goaltender.
“I’ve just come in this weekend and tried not to focus on the fact that I have been called up and just the fact it’s just another game,” mentioned Hurley. “I have played my fair share of games in this league the past three years; these are guys I have played in the past so it was more of a confidence boost then anything getting the call.”
Mack Shields was strong between the pipes for the Hitmen all night and helped keep his club in front during the first period stopping all eight shots he faced, ending the evening with 26 saves. His most impressive stop of the period came as he stretched out and denied Rocket’s captain Colton Sissons with a pad save.
The rookie netminder continued his stellar play in the second period, but the visitors finally capitalized with two goals at the midway point of the contest. A cross-crease pass by Mitchell Wheaton set-up Zach Franko at the right side of the goal where he backhanded a shot past the Hitmen goalie. The marker was Franko’s eighth of the year.
Just over a minute later Kelowna struck again. A giveaway in the slot put the puck on the stick of DylenMcKinlay as he made no mistake snapping a shot through Shields for his sixth of the campaign.
“I thought Shields did very well tonight, when it was 1-0 he was keeping us in the game and we just never got the traction going and they capitalized on a couple of key mistakes by us,” explained Williamson.
The home team struggled to get shots on net in the first two periods but got their offence got back on track in the third period. Kelowna would find the back of the net and extended their lead at the 9:04 mark of the final frame. A two-on-one between Tyson Baillie and Franko ended with the ladder scoring his second of the evening.
With an extra attacker out for the Hitmen, Sissons popped in an empty netter for the Rockets in the final minute to round out the scoring and gave the road team a 4-1 victory.
Calgary now heads out on a three-game East Division road swing from Nov. 2-4, starting Friday night in Regina, followed by stops in Brandon and Moose Jaw. The Hitmen will return to the Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday, Nov. 7 to host the Moose Jaw Warriors with 7 p.m. puck drop.