When the Calgary Hitmen started last season it was widely believed that they were entering a rebuilding period. After all with team leaders like Karl Alzner and Ryan White leaving to start their professional careers one could hardly be faulted for thinking that sophomores Brandon Kozun, Ian Schultz, and T.J. Galiardi (all born and/or raised in Calgary) would have the leadership skills necessary to guide the team into the playoffs, much less the top of the league. However, they did and they finished the year with their best regular season record in team history.
Here we are a year later and even with the loss of seven players who combined for a total of 496 points last year and the departure of head coach Dave Lowry who took a job as an assistant with the Flames, the Hitmen have barely even flinched and again can be found at the top of the league.
What gives with this level of success against all odds? Is there something in the water? Fresh mountain air, maybe? What about the Chinooks?
Well, in reality, astute management is probably one of the biggest reasons. GM Kelly Kisio is a smart guy and he knows how to build a winner. And, while I don’t know if it was deliberate, this year’s team is stocked with a stable core of veterans as well as some quality prospects all of whom are products of the Calgary and area minor hockey system.
Here is a brief run down on all of them:
Ian Schultz, RW
4 February 1990, 6’3, 208 lbs
Minor hockey: Lake Bonavista
Ian was previously featured in the winter 2008 issue of Hockey Calgary magazine. Since that interview, he finished the season with 41 points. Now coming close to the end of his third full year with the Hitmen, his first as co-captain of the team, he’s put up 46 points in 60 games placing him seventh in team scoring.
“I bring the same thing to the table every game: hard work and I guess I’m getting the same bounces,” he said of the similarity between the two years.
Ian’s current line-mates are Misha Fisenko and Chase Schaber.
Drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Blues in 2008, Ian had another opportunity to go to a pro camp to see what life was all about.
“It went very well,” he said of his experience at the camp. “Traverse City was a lot of fun.”
Traverse City is a small town 270 miles north of Detroit that hosts a rookie tournament every year for nine of the American NHL teams. This year’s tournament took place from September 6 to 10. Schultz played primarily on the fourth line.
Three for Ian:
- Do you get any feedback from the Blues’ coaching staff regarding your development? “Yes, they like what they are seeing from me so far.”
- With the exception of being drafted, what’s been the highlight of your career so far? “Winning the Eastern Conference Championship last season with the Hitmen.”
- First guy that comes to mind as the toughest opponent to play against? “Luca Sibsa (Philadelphia Flyer prospect), defenceman with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.”
Brandon Kozun, RW
8 March 1990, 5′ 9, 164 lbs
Minor hockey: Blackfoot/Midnapore
Currently on a line with Joel Broda and Tyler Fiddler, Brandon Kozun was featured in the winter 2007 issue of Hockey Calgary magazine. In the article, one of Brandon’s former coaches is quoted as saying, “I think if [the Hitmen] use him in the right time and place, they’ll have a real super junior hockey player on their hands.”
And do they ever.
This past spring, Kozun was drafted in the sixth round by the Los Angeles Kings; but, as is often the case with late round picks, Brandon wasn’t watching.
“It was getting late so I stopped watching but got a call from my agent a short time later,” said the winger. “It felt pretty good,” he said on being picked by the team from the city he was born in. “LA would have been on the top couple of teams I would have wanted to go to. It’s especially exciting to be picked by a team with a lot of up and coming potential.”
The winger went to the Kings’ development camp in July and its rookie camp in September. Was he given any advice?
“They told me they wanted me to have a good start to the year and to get bigger and stronger.”
Genetics aside, Brandon is certainly doing as he’s told. In fact, after putting together a 108 point season last year to lead the team in scoring, the winger is on pace for another big one, and with 87 points in 55 games, he’s currently dueling with a couple of other players, including Oiler first round prospect Jordan Eberle, for the league lead in points.
“I look at it a little,” said Brandon regarding personal stats, “but I’m more concerned about the Hitmen team success.”
Kozun played for Canada at this year’s IIHF World Junior Championships and helped bring the country home a silver medal.
Three for Brandon:
- With the exception of being drafted, what’s been the highlight of your career so far? “Last year’s playoff run with the Calgary Hitmen.”
- Describe your decision to try out for the Canadian juniors rather than the American juniors. “I felt like I’ve been living and playing hockey in Canada the last 10 or 11 years so it was kind of an easy decision to make.”
- Toughest opponent to play against? “Colton Teubert (LA King prospect) of the Regina Pats.”
Kris Foucault, LW
12 December 1990, 6’1, 204 lbs
Minor hockey: Midnapore/Buffaloes
Drafted in the fourth round by the Wild in 2009, Foucault, like team mate Ian Schultz, also played in the Traverse City Rookie Tournament, but for the Wild. He was the hero as his shoot out goal decided the game against the Dallas Stars’ rookies.
Foucault came to the Hitmen after brief stints through 2006 to 2008 with the Kootenay Ice and Swift Current Broncos, never having played more than a full season’s worth of games for either team. But, after coming over from the Ice in a 2009 deadline deal, he settled in with the Hitmen posting 16 points in 22 regular season games and then another 16 points, including 11 goals, in 18 post season games last year. His post season efforts were rewarded when he was named the Husky Eastern Conference Championship Most Valuable Player. So far this year, Kris has slipped somewhat and finds himself tenth in team scoring with 32 points in 58 games.
Four for Kris:
- With the exception of being drafted, what’s been the highlight of your career so far? “Winning the scoring title in Bantam AAA.”
- Strengths and weaknesses? “My strength is goal scoring; my weakness is defensive play.”
- Any Calgary minor hockey coach come to mind as particularly influential? “Larry Doyle, coach of pee wee one Midnapore Rangers.”
- First guy that comes to mind as the toughest to play against? “Mark Guggenberger, goaltender for the Kelowna Rockets.”
Ben Wilson, D
26 March 1991, 5′ 10, 160 lbs
Minor hockey: Bow Valley
In his first season with the Hitmen, Wilson, an alumnus of the AJHL’s Olds Grizzlys’, has been partnered with Matt MacKenzie and has posted three goals and 11 assists in 56 games so far. His first WHL goal came in a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings and he says that so far that’s been the highlight of his young career. He describes his shot as his weakness and his speed as his strength. Interestingly, on a roster consisting of 20 players six feet and taller, the 5’10, 160 lbs Wilson (the smallest of the Hitmen defense corps) currently sits fourth overall in penalty minutes for the team.
Two for Ben:
- Any Calgary minor hockey coach come to mind as particularly influential? Scott Switzer.
- First guy that comes to mind as the toughest opponent to play against? Brayden Schenn (LA King prospect) of the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Peter Kosterman, D
6 February 1993, 6’4, 182 lbs
Minor hockey: Lake Bonavista Breakers/Buffaloes
This is Peter Kosterman’s first season in the WHL, but you get the sense this guy has a good head on his shoulders for someone so young.
“It’s a learning experience adjusting to the lifestyle both on and off the ice and getting to know a new group of guys,” says the lanky defenseman. “The travel demands from Prince George to Brandon mean you have to find ways to both rest for games while balancing school.”
He points out that Joel Broda, Michael Stone, and Matt Mackenzie have been showing him the ropes of life in the WHL.
In another interview, Hitmen head scout Brad Whelan described Kosterman as “a smart, heady player and as he gets stronger will be able to log some minutes for us. He makes a good first pass, but it’s hard to tell how physical he’ll be because he’s so slight right now.” When Peter was drafted he was listed at 6’2”, 170 lbs. He’s now listed at 6’4”, 182 lbs. What does he think of the scouting report on him and what does he think his ceiling will be?
“I think Mr. Whelan’s assessment is fair. I’m working on using my size more consistently and I’m regaining comfort with moving the puck at this next level. My ultimate goal is to play in the NHL and have a successful career there. With that in mind, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what exactly my ceiling is going to be.”
Three for Peter:
- Describe your strengths and weaknesses. “Strengths: Getting the puck out of the zone. Weaknesses: relaxing in pressure situations.”
- So far in your young career who has been the most difficult player to defend against? “Brandon Kozun and Joel Broda in practice.”
- Any Calgary minor hockey coach come to mind as particularly influential? “I was fortunate enough to have really great coaching throughout all my minor hockey experience, but if I had to pick one in particular, it would have to be Coach Rob Cox. He provided excellent leadership and was a great role model because he taught me the importance of team chemistry and being first to the puck.”
Giffen Nyren, D
18 April 1989, 6′ 1, 195 lbs
Minor hockey: Westwood Warriors/Northwest Calgary Athletic Association/AAA Flames
One of the team’s over-agers, Giffen is a capable skater and puck mover that played two seasons with Moose Jaw and just over one with Kamloops before a trade brought him back home. “It was pretty cool,” he said about the trade. “I went to Hitmen games as a young kid and always dreamed of playing at the Saddledome for them.” Currently partnered with Austin Madaisky, Giffen is not known as an offensive defenseman, although he did post 46 points in 69 games last year with the Blazers.
“Right now I’m focused on playing my best hockey every game in hopes to make the next level,” says Nyren. And with 25 points in 35 games, he seems to be doing just that.
Two for Giffen:
- Highlight of your career so far? “My first Western Hockey League game.”
- Any minor hockey coach come to mind as particularly influential? If so, why, and which team? “I’ve had a lot of great coaches along the way who’ve helped me reach my goals.”
Michael Snider, G
22 February 1991, 5′ 9, 173 lbs
Minor hockey: Okotoks/UFA Bisons
As his record of 15 wins (two by shutout) in 23 games seems to indicate, sophomore goaltender Michael Snider certainly rises to the occasion when the coaches call on him to play.
“I’m much more confident in myself out there I find this year,” says Michael. “I’m not so intimidated by the big crowds and I worked hard throughout the summer to be better this year. My goal is to be in the top few goalies in the WHL and earn a starting role for next year.”
Snider’s goals against average is 2.61 and his save percentage is .898 good for sixth and 22nd, respectively, overall amongst WHL ‘tenders.
Four for Snider:
- Highlight of your career so far? “Last year’s playoff run with the Calgary Hitmen.”
- Toughest shooter you’ve faced in the dub? “Jordan Eberle (Edmonton Oiler prospect) of the Regina Pats.”
- What about during practice? “Joel Broda or Michael Stone.”
- Any minor hockey coach come to mind as particularly influential? If so, why and which team? “I didn’t really have a very influential coach growing up that comes to mind but my favorite coach so far has been Dave Lowry. He’s a great person to look up to because of his experience in the NHL and his knowledge within the game. He’s a very down to earth guy and has a great personality. It was an awesome opportunity to get a chance to play on his team.”
This is article is reprinted with the permission of Hockey Calgary Magazine.