The Lethbridge Hurricanes season came to an end on the weekend with a 6-5, comeback shoot out win in Medicine Hat Saturday night.
The Canes finish the year with a record of 29-42-0-1 for 59 points. They also beat the Tigers 4 times in 8 tries, with 3 of those victories coming in the Hat. Although Lethbridge had 6 more wins than last season, they finished with a total of 59 points, the same as last year. Lets take a look back at the season that was for this team.
There's no question that had the Hurricanes not got off to the start they did, they would more than likely had been in the mix for a playoff spot. Losing every game in October (13 straight) and that same stretch which included just one victory in 19 games, was really the difference in the season for the Hurricanes. In conference so tight, a losing skid like that is tough recover from. During that skid, Rich Preston pulled the trigger on a couple of trades, acquiring Nick Buonassisi from Prince George and shortly after that a deal with Brandon picking up Spencer Galbraith and Liam Liston from the Wheat Kings. All three of those players will be keys for the Hurricanes come training camp in September.
Since late November, the Canes have been a pretty consistent team and from Christmas till the end of the season, Lethbridge was nearly much a .500 team. Damien Ketlo played a stabilizing role for the Hurricanes in goal and that was a big reason for the turnaround in my opinion. Not only that, but it took the rookies on this team a couple of months to figure out their roles and the Western Hockey League in general. Players like Sam McKechnie, Jaimen Yakubowski, Jamal Watson, Jay Merkley, Adam Henry, and Macoy Erkamps all had solid first year's in the WHL. Most of the points they racked up came from December on to the end of the season this past weekend. These players will be the foundation for the Lethbridge Hurricanes for the next few seasons. With the two overage players moving on and with 5 players competing for three 20 year old spots next season, the Canes will have 4 spots to fill for sure. There's no doubt in my mind that Reid Duke and Ryan Pilon and locks to make this team and one would have to think Joel Topping and Kolten Olynek both have a great chance at making the roster. We also can't count out players such as Bryton Sayers, Remi Laurencelle, and Tyler Wong who will be battling for a spots. There will be some tough decisions for the coaching staff, but one thing is for sure, there won't be as many rookies as there was this season.
I think the biggest question mark is goaltending. Is Liam Liston ready to by the number one guy and is Tanner Kovacs ready for a full-time back-up role? If not, does Rich Preston pull the trigger on a trade to bring in another goalie early in the season if things don't pan out? Plenty of questions there. It is the most important position. The off-season is going to be extremely important for both goalies coming back to training camp.
How about the Euros? In a previous post I mentioned the Hurricanes will have a top 12 Import pick in June. Will they roll the dice and keep Blomqvist and Bezuch and trade that pick away or do they change one of the two and use that pick on another European? Again, decisions for the Hockey Operations staff. Blomqvist had plenty of injury and sickness issues this season and we really didn't get to see his full potential in my opinion. Does that play a factor into any decisions? As for Bezuch, he certainly started to come on in the last two months and can be an exciting player to watch. I'd be inclined to keep the Slovak, but we will see what the powers at be do in the next few months. Bezuch had just started to showcase his talents since January and I'd like to see him next season with one year under his belt in the WHL. I think if this upcoming first round Import selection was a late pick, the Canes would likely keep both Euros, but given it's a high pick, more decisions for the top brass to make.
There were plenty of bright spots too. The emergence of the rookies, a much-improved power play, an almost .500 record at home, and overall the most competitive Lethbridge Hurricanes team in the three years that Rich Preston has been in charge. It's also the youngest team, but the talent level with this group has started to show. Adam Henry has blossomed into a solid defenceman, Graham Hood easily had his best year in the WHL, and Dan Johnston will be the defensive anchor next season. We have seen the development of the younger players too and that is hugely important. One thing the Hurricanes will have to do is try and bolster the 18 and 19 year old positions next season. They're a bit thin in those two age groups, but with plenty of picks in the system, they now have some commodities to deal in terms of bringing players in. It could be a more active off-season in that regard.
Brady Ramsay was by far the most improved player year-over-year. There were lots of questions surrounding him at the start of the season and he was outstanding, scoring 23 goals, 18 assists for 41 points. I'm looking for Jay Merkley to really have a breakout season in 2012-2013. He had 12 goals and 11 assists in 58 games. He was slotted on the 3rd and 4th lines for a majority of the season, but like Adam Henry and Juraj Bezuch, his play improved in the last few months of the year.
Off the ice, there are two big things. Number one, the hiring of a new Business Manager. With Jim Bradley resigning last month, the Canes are in search of their 4th Business Mananer in the last 6 seasons. This is a key position and it's important time be taken to find the right person for the job. I think stability in that position is vital for the financial side of things going forward. Then there's the question of ownership. With discussion around the community of parties interested in possibly wanting to buy the team, it'll be interesting to see if this picks up any steam in the months ahead. There's lots that would have to happen if the Board decided to entertain offers, so it wouldn't be a short process. There's also the question of finances. The Hurricanes have lost six figures that last two seasons and that will be the case this year too. It's imperative the organization turn things around financially. Making the playoffs would certainly be a help, since teams only budget for the regular season. After missing the post-season dance for three straight years, there is a big appetite in this city to get back into the playoff picture and get that feeling back at the ENMAX Centre that was so electric in the 2007-2008 run to the finals. The pressure will be on the coaching staff to make that happen starting this fall.
HURRICANES THIS WEEK
Our final radio show of the season will take place Monday night (Mar. 19) from Average Joe's Sports Bar on 6th Street South. Paul Kingsmith from Global TV and Dylan Purcell from the Lethbridge Herald will join Fred and I to talk about a lot of the stuff I just mentioned and more. It'll be a post-mortem of the season. It's start at 6:00 pm MDT on CJOC.