Most teams don’t want to face the Portland Winterhawks.
The top-ranked CHL team has been steamrolling through the Western circuit all season, encountering only eight losses, first place all but clinched, and many pundits calling them the odds-on-favourite for the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon.
Instead, the Calgary Hitmen rolled into the Rose City and left with a come-from-behind 4-3 victory last week, kick starting what is now a three-game winning streak.
“Portland is an outstanding hockey team and to get down 3-1 and come back and win the game is very good for moral, very good for mindset as far as the guys go,” said Hitmen general manager Kelly Kisio.
After being shutout in the two games prior to Portland, the Hitmen are now rolling, with a 5-1 domination over the Everett Silvertips on Friday followed by a 4-3 overtime squeaker over the Seattle Thunderbirds the next night.
In the two-and-a-half weeks on the road, the Hitmen own a 4-3 record with two games remaining, starting tonight against the Tri-City Americans.
Kisio explained despite the victory over the Winterhawks, they shouldn’t let it get to their head.
“They know when they turn it on and play the game that they can play, that they can beat anyone,” he said. “The trick is to not rest on your laurels and think you are going to be able to beat everyone. You have to prepare for every game and every shift. That’s probably our biggest challenge right now going forward.”
Tri-City is stuck in the middle of the Western Conference, with three points separating fourth through sixth. The Americans are in that sixth spot with a 31-21-1-2 record.
They have one player in the top 10 of WHL scoring, with Justin Feser at 74 points.
Strong goaltending was one of their best attributes at one time, with top netminding prospect Eric Comrie between the pipes. However, he underwent surgery earlier this year and will be out the rest of the season. Instead, Luke Lee-Knight has taken over the starting duties, and owns a record of 10-7 with 3.52 GAA and 0.895 save percentage.
As for the Hitmen, they are stuck in WHL purgatory. Courtesy of a 36-16-1-3, they are third place in the Eastern Conference, 11 points behind the Edmonton Oil Kings and 11 points ahead of fourth-place Red Deer Rebels. Sixteen games remain in the regular season for Calgary.
After a road trip that took them almost 5,500 kilometers in three weeks, the Hitmen can see the light at the end of the tunnel. They’ll be back at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday when they take on the Victoria Royals at 7 p.m.