They are words a coach loves to hear coming from his lips.
“They’re buyin’,” Calgary Hitmen head coach Steve Hamilton said during a 2-for-2, no-doubter weekend by his Western Hockey League charges.
“I think it’s pretty evident there’s been a real togetherness about what we’ve been doing around here.”
It sure seems to be, Steve.
After an ugly opening to the 2023-24 WHL junior campaign — try a 2-7-2 start — Hamilton and the Hitmen have done a complete 180 to run off seven wins in the past eight games and climb above 500.
“We got ourselves back to .500,” Hamilton told reporters after Friday’s 6-1 home win over the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings at the Saddledome. “That to me is very very important for a group that eight games ago or whatever, it was a tough start.
“For the guys to believe in themselves, that’s on them,” Hamilton continued. “They play that way. They dig in to these situations. They block the shots and score the big goals … and then they find success together.”
Suddenly that is the case, beginning with an Oct. 22 4-3 edge of the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes and running through three weeks of winning outside of a 6-4 home loss to the Everett Silvertips — one of the league’s early season success stories — on Nov. 3.
The latest victories came over the weekend — both against the Oil Kings and punctuated by Saturday’s 10-1 dismantling in Edmonton.
It wasn’t long ago the Hitmen began the schedule with just four goals in three games.
Saturday’s half-dozen came courtesy of Oliver Tulk with two, rookie Ben Kindel, Carson Wetsch, Carter Yakemchuk and Dax Williams.
And then Saturday, they lit up the lamp at a rapid clip. Sean Tschigerl, Wetsch and Maxim Muranov each with two tallies and singles apiece from Tulk, Kindel, Yakemchuk and David Adaszynski. Tschigerl and Tulk — who has now reached 100 points in his WHL career — both counted a game-high four points, while Williams, Carter MacAdams and captain Tyson Galloway all notched two assists on a night during which 13 different Hitmen recorded at least a point.
Saturday’s game also saw them score four times on the power play, one night after they staked themselves to a 3-0 lead on a trio of man-advantage markers.
So the PP — only eight of 22 WHL clubs have a higher percentage than Calgary’s 23% — has helped with the turnaround.
“Really good,” Hamilton told reporters. “Don has spent a lot of time with those guys. They’ve gotten better. We’ve had a consistent amount of practice time here over the past couple of weeks. And you can see they’re certainly gelling together, which is awesome.”
That consistent amount of practice has coincided with more time spent at home.
Seven of their past nine games have been played at the Dome, helping them to find more rhythm on and off the ice. The result has been a solid run of five home wins in the past six tests — an area of concern in the 2022-23 WHL season.
“One thing coming into this year was our home ice — we needed to be a little bit better,” Hitmen goalie Ethan Buenaventura told reporters Friday night. “And we have been, obviously, so it’s been good. We keep telling the guys home-ice advantage is what you need.”
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How about a 6-2-1 mark at the Dome so far in 2023-24, which included a lacklustre loss in their season-opener that looked like it might predict disaster again at 555 Saddledome Rise SE?
Instead, they’re 9-8-2-0 and back into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a strong chance to add to their run thanks to a home-and-home set with the Red Deer Rebels (6-9-0-3) on Friday at the Dome (7 p.m.) and Saturday at the Peavey Mart Centrium (7 p.m.).
“It was obviously a tough start — we all knew that,” Buenaventura continued. “But we’ve all come together. The young guys have really really been helping out. And us older guys have been gelling together.”
So much so that the HItmen are feeling the good vibes and buying into what they can be.
“Expectations are always high, and I would want that as a player,” Hamilton added. “And I think they’re thriving on the fact that we’re having success. It feels good that we’re in the mix.”