It didn’t take long for trade deadline acquisition Jesse Zgraggen to introduce himself to the Calgary Hitmen faithful.
Arriving last week in a trade from the Victoria Royals, the 19-year-old opened the scoring, taking the pass from Chase Lang and firing it past goalie Brett Zarowny only three minutes into the game on the way to a 5-3 Hitmen win in front of 9,823 fans on Friday night.
“The crowd was awesome, we had a lot of fans out there and it wasn’t our best game but we came out with the win,” Zgraggen said about a win that boosted the Hitmen to first place in the Eastern Conference.
In his short time with the Hitmen, the Lethbridge native has averaged a point a game in his five contests compared to only seven points in 33 games out in Victoria.
“It’s how the team plays in the offensive zone,” he said. “They use everybody out there, a lot of skill and it makes it a lot easier to play out there.”
Head coach Mike Williamson liked what he saw from the rearguard, buts said the offense is just a “bonus.”
“We weren’t too worried about offense, if it was going to come, it was a bonus,” Williamson said. “Jesse knows that he’s got to first and foremost be a solid first pass guy, take care of his own end, kill penalties and if there is opportunities at the other end of the rink, that’s great.”
Zgraggen’s goal turned into a trend as defensemen scored all four markers in the first period. Calgary kid Dallas Ehrhardt responded four minutes later for the Cougars, before Marc McNulty gave the visitors their first and only lead in the game on the powerplay. The period ended with Hitmen player Alex Roach putting his own marker top corner with seven minutes remaining to tie it up.
Hitmen forward Greg Chase restored the Hitmen lead in the second frame, pocketing one after a strong effort from Jake Virtanen forced a turnover down low in the Cougars zone. Returning forward Victor Rask continued his point a game pace in his first game back, tapping on in from Zane Jones later on the frame.
Rask returned the favour with about eight minutes left in the third, setting up Jones to mark his 17th of the year.
“I had some good chemistry out there with Zane Jones and (Colton) Mayor,” said Rask, a Carolina Hurricanes prospect.
Williamson agreed, saying they played “phenomenal in their first game as a trio.”
“They created a ton of chances and could have had more. We have some depth there and should be able to get some offense from all of our lines,” he said.
Cougars added one late from Zach Pochiro on a penalty shot.
After allowing 14 shots in the first 20 minutes, the Hitmen tightened up on the defensive side on the rink, allowing only eight shots the rest of the way. All but one were turned away by netminder Chris Driedger, who picked up his 25th win of the season.
The game didn’t go perfectly for the Hitmen, who lost rearguard Alex Roach after a scary incident in the second period. A shot deflected off Roach’s stick and caught him in the throat. Williamson said Roach was taken to hospital for precautionary reasons.
After a five-day layoff, the Hitmen are back on the ice Saturday night in Medicine Hat. Game time is 7:30 p.m. The team will be back on home ice Jan. 27th against Brandon. The Sunday game is at 4 p.m.
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