Lethbridge Hurricanes eager to hit the ice for WHL season opener
Playing in an empty arena with no in-person fan support made for a bizarre and challenging 2020-21 WHL season, but this year, the ENMAX Centre will be packed with fans cheering on their hometown Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Everyone 12 years old and up looking to take in a game at the arena will need to show either proof of full vaccination, or a recent negative COVID-19 test, and the expectation is for the building to be at full capacity most nights.
Having that energy back in the building is something players have longed for, and their finally ready to soak in the hometown advantage once again.
"You want to keep on playing for them and as soon as you get that momentum it doesn't really die down," said Hurricanes forward Salvatore Collora.
"Without the crowd atmosphere last year, you could just hear everything going on, on the ice. You'd score a goal and it was just like the same thing as it was before. It was kind of hard to get that momentum."
And the team is expecting to have a whole lot more to celebrate this season compared to last year.
Roughly a dozen players are returning and team chemistry has continued to grow since the club finished the 2020-21 campaign in fourth place in the Central Division with a 9-12-3-0 record.
"We have a really big team. A big strong team, and we have to be hard to play against," said assistant coach Jeff Hansen.
"For us, playing hard combined with playing with more structure than whoever we're playing is going to be our recipe for success."
The 'Canes are looking to push for the second league title in franchise history, and that effort starts this weekend against the Calgary Hitmen with the season opener at the ENMAX Centre on Friday, Oct. 1 and the rematch in Calgary on Sunday.
For 17-year-old defenceman Logan McCutcheon, this is a big year.
He's entering his second year in Lethbridge after an impressive rookie campaign that saw him put up 11 points in 23 games from the blue line last season.
Being eligible for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, he'll be looking to make an impression on scouts over the course of the 68-game WHL season, but right now, he's focused on one thing – winning games.
"I just try to do what I can to be my best every night, prepare the best I can, try and get better every day going forward and just worry about that when it comes," he said.
"We've got a great group in there everybody gets along really well, we mesh well together. It's just a lot of fun in the room."
McCutcheon describes himself as a smaller, speedy defenseman who can use his strong skating ability to help him defensively and allow him to jump up in the rush to create offense.
Another player entering his draft year is Slovakian rookie Peter Repcik.
Moving from his home country to play hockey in southern Alberta has been a unique experience for the 17-year-old forward.
The ice surface is smaller in the North American Game and English is his second language, but he's been fitting in with the team and adjusting to the game nicely.
"It was pretty hard at first, but hockey is the same everywhere. It will be good," he said.
"I'm so excited because I've never played in front of 5,000 people before."
With team leaders like Justin Hall, Alex Cotton and Logan Barlage back with the club and ready to roll, the Hurricanes enter the year loaded with valuable experience and the talent required to be a must-watch WHL team all season long.
Luckily, fans in Lethbridge will actually get to be there in person to see the season unfold at the ENMAX Centre.