Less than one year ago, hockey talk in Lethbridge, Alta. surrounded the
potential relocation of the local Hurricanes. Now the talk has turned to
a potential Memorial Cup appearance.
It’s amazing what a year can do.
The Hurricanes shook off six seasons of futility and exploded into the 2015-16 season, capitalizing on career years from forwards Brayden Burke, Giorgio Estephan and Tyler Wong, and a standout start from Russian rookie Egor Babenko.
The score-by-committee Hurricanes have a league-leading six skaters in the WHL’s top 20 point-scorers through Jan. 21 —Burke, Estephan, Wong, Babenko, Andrew Nielsen and Justin Gutierrez — and led all WHL teams with a sixth place ranking in the Week 17 CHL Top 10.
Burke’s 17 goals and 52 had him sitting second in league scoring through 46 games, behind only Adam Brooks (27G, 44A) of the Regina Pats.
Between the posts the Hurricanes boast one of the strongest goaltending tandems the WHL has to offer. Jayden Sitter, 19, and 17-year-old standout Stuart Skinner have been sharing the load in goal for Lethbridge, and with each sporting plus-900 save percentages and sub-3 goals against averages, that likely won’t change anytime soon.
A big part of Lethbridge’s success has come through a surging hot power play. With a 30.5 per cent success rate, the Hurricanes’ man advantage exceeds all other teams by at least 6.6 per cent and 12 power play goals.
The ‘Canes bolster a strong back end as well. Additions to the back end such as 6-foot, 200-pound Arvin Atwal and a breakout year from two-way blueliner Nielsen, coupled with strong work between the posts, have made Lethbridge a stingy team defensively — with a fifth-ranked 130 goals against through 46 games this season.
After a six-year playoff drought the Hurricanes have all but locked up a place in the 2016 post-season. In fact, Lethbridge has yet to lose a game since the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, stringing together eight straight victories to take over first place in the WHL.
It’s sure to be a hard road to a Memorial Cup berth, as the Hurricanes would have to surpass the host Red Deer Rebels, the reigning champion Kelowna Rockets, and everyone else along the way. But after rolling to a 34-12-0-0 record through 46 games, they surely deserve a place in the conversation.
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