As the Calgary Hitmen strolled off the ice for the final time on Tuesday night, they know they left everything on the ice for Game 7.
After three grueling rounds of WHL playoffs, including pushing the defending WHL champions Edmonton Oil Kings to the brink, the Hitmen bowed out with a 2-0 loss in Game 7 of the Husky WHL Eastern Conference Championship.
“I’m really proud of the way that we battled all series,” said defenceman Jaynen Rissling. “I think most people wrote us off after the 6-0 loss in Game 2. Game 6, being down two going into the third showed a lot of character in our team.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get the bounces tonight but I’m really proud of the effort that we gave.
Head coach Mike Williamson added, “For the most part, they laid it on the line. We gave ourselves a chance.
“We had a good opportunity tonight and couldn’t find a way to get a goal when we needed.”
A few bounces here, a lucky break there and it could have been the Hitmen travelling to Portland for the WHL final’s date with the Winterhawks.
But that wasn’t the case on Tuesday night.
The game marked the end of great WHL careers from captain Cody Sylvester, Brooks Macek and Spencer Humphries.
For Sylvester, he wasn’t ready to take off the jersey he wore proudly for the last five years.
“As an overager, it sucks,” said Sylvester matter-of-factly. “I had the honour and privilege to play in Calgary for my whole career. I wouldn’t change that for the world. We had a great group of guys in the room.
“We had a gutsy effort the other night to force Game 7 and tonight, we just fell a little bit short. You have to give credit to Edmonton, they are a great hockey team.”
After slow starts haunted their previous games, the Hitmen came out firing on all cylinders and had the home team on their heels. By the 10-minute mark, Calgary had a 7-2 shot advantage, but nothing got by Oil Kings netminder Laurent Brossoit.
Edmonton got their feet moving, and was rewarded with a goal by Michael St. Croix with just under six-minutes left in the opening period.
They doubled that lead in the middle frame with St. Croix notching his second of the night.
Calgary had found themselves in a similar situation two days earlier for Game 6. They scored two goals in the third period to force overtime when Macek was the hero to push the series to the limit.
Unfortunately, there weren’t any Game 7 heroics, although the Hitmen did have their chances.
Macek was stopped point blank by Brossoit. A Sylvester wrist shot was heading top corner before Brossoit tossed his glove hand up. Zane Jones redirected a shot on the power play that just missed the net.
Finally, with the goalie pulled and the Hitmen on the power play, Calgary was finally able to beat the Calgary Flames’ prospect with under a minute left.
But the referees ruled Macek had scored with a high stick and it was no goal.
Shortly after, Edmonton celebrated their second straight WHL finals berth.
Driedger made 36 saves for the Hitmen, and will bow out of the playoffs leading the WHL with 539 saves in the post-season.