They may have grown up nearly 2,000-miles apart in different countries, with completely different climates, but a Calgary Hitmen rookie duo now share something in common.
Forwards Andrew Fyten, a born and bred Albertan, and Mark Kastelic, who was raised on the game by his Canadian-born father while growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, both made their Western Hockey League debuts when their Hitmen travelled to Cranbrook on Friday to open the 2015-16 season against the Kootenay ICE.
On the same line no less.
“It’s been a great ride,” said Kastelic, who became the first American selected at the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft when the Hitmen plucked the centreman 41st overall.
“Being so young, I just want to play smart and keep things as simple as I can. I have to show the coaches I’m willing to put the work in to get myself in the lineup every game. And if that doesn’t happen, I will have to work even harder to give myself the best chance to get back in there.”
“It felt really good,” said Fyten, of making his WHL debut. “The nerves weren’t there as much as I thought they would be, but I think being able to get in some exhibition games helped with that.”
Although stepping out on Saddledome ice for Saturday’s home opener was a much different scenario for the Sundre, Alberta native.
“That was definitely a special moment,” he said. “To be honest, there were a lot nerves leading up the player introductions, but as soon as the national anthem started I was ready to go.”
Originally selected by the Everett Silvertips in the fifth round, 108th overall, in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, the Hitmen acquired the rights to the 1998-born Fyten in May in exchange for a conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2016.
Not one to shy away from mixing things up physically, the 6’1” 180-pound winger also possesses a scoring touch, which was proven last season when he produced 22 goals and 22 assists, to go along with 185 penalty minutes, in 62 games with the CSSHL’s Edge School Midget Prep Mountaineers.
“I’m an energy guy,” said Fyten proudly. “I’m just going to go out there and battle and grind it out. I’m the type of guy that produces scoring chances from taking the puck hard to the net and stirring up the pot.”
The 6’3” 189-pound Kastelic, meanwhile, is a skilled centreman who has demonstrated he can also play the gritty and greasy game.
During his draft year, the rookie posted 52 points in 51 games with the Phoenix Junior Coyotes Bantam AAA team. Last season, while suiting up for the Coyotes U16 squad, he recorded 15 points and 38 penalty minutes in 24 games.
“That year we didn’t have a first-round pick, and we went off the grid a bit, but we still knew we were getting a top-notch player in Mark,” said Hitmen GM Mike Moore, of selecting the under-the-radar prospect.
The first junior game the highly-touted Southerner ever attended? The one he made his debut in.
“I have learned so much since being here,” Kastelic said. “Every day is a big challenge, but it’s been fun to be out there with the guys, getting better every day, and learning a ton. I’m feeling more comfortable every time out.”
Left wing Taylor Sanheim, who entering this season had all of 53 WHL games under his belt, has been given the task of looking out for the pair of rookies.
Suddenly, the 19-year-old Manitoban, who brings a blue-collar style of game to the ice each and every shift, finds himself as the wise ol’ veteran.
“It’s never easy to play your first game in the WHL, but they sure made it look that way,” Sanheim said. “As the veteran of the line I try to help them out as much as I can, but they have done a great job, they’re working extremely hard, and they have both looked really good. And they’re only going to get better as they become more comfortable.”
Other rookies on this year’s Hitmen roster still anxiously awaiting to make their WHL debuts include defenceman Jakob LaPointe, forwards Lucas Cullen, Matt Dorsey (injured) and Dawson Martin, as well as goaltender Lasse Petersen.
A few rooks may get their chance this weekend as the Hitmen depart for a three-game-in-three-day road trip, where they will face the Brandon Wheat Kings on Friday, Moose Jaw Warriors on Saturday and, finally, the Regina Pats on Sunday.