By Woodard, Dale on January 17, 2020.
Consider the void ably filled for the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
For more than a month, the Canes functioned with 50 goals and 118 points off their roster with forwards Dylan Cozens and Oliver Okuliar and defenceman Calen Addison nowhere near the starting lineup.
Nowhere near the lineup in the literal sense as the Hurricanes highly-offensive trio trekked overseas to the Czech Republic for the World Junior Hockey Championship, Cozens and Addison with Team Canada and Okuliar Team Slovakia.
But rather than plummet down the standings, the Hurricanes secondary scoring featuring the likes of Logan Barlage, Justin, Hall, Chase Wheatcroft – to name a few – as well as some help from the blue-line Alex Cotton and Koletrane Wilson paced the team to a 7-1-2-0 stretch.
That featured only one regulation loss, a 5-2 setback to the Calgary Hitmen Dec. 15 in Calgary.
That’s helped keep the 20-10-2-5 Canes in the midst of another Central Division race as the Hurricanes welcome the Red Deer Rebels to the Enmax Centre in Western Hockey League play at 7 p.m. tonight.
Since their first game without the trio, Barlage has racked up 15 points over that 10-game stretch, while Hall brings and eight-game point streak into tonight’s contest. Wheatcroft has added 10 points over that stretch and Noah Boyko has 11 points in that time. Alex Thacker and Zack Stringer each have nine points in that span.
Okuliar returned to the team in time for last weekend’s games – and tacked on another three points in a pair of wins – but tonight will mark the return of Cozens and Addison as a special pre-game ceremony takes place to honour the duo’s gold medal win with Canada.
“We wanted the boys to do well, and I think they did better without us,” said Addison with a chuckle Wednesday afternoon. “So hopefully we can keep that going here in the next few games.”
Joking aside, it’s a safe assumption Canes fans are simply excited to get the trio back in full force and going forward down the stretch drive.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Hurricanes trail the 28-12-1-1 Medicine Hat Tigers by one point and, just like they did at this time last year, continue to chase the Central Division-leading Edmonton Oil Kings (29-7-5-3), who sit nine points up on Lethbridge.
“A lot of guys really stepped up here and that was awesome to see,” said Cozens, who had 20 goals and 46 points in 20 games before heading to the World Juniors. “But once you get a taste for winning you always want to win. We know what we want to do here and we know we have what it takes to go all the way and that is our goal.”
Cozens and Addison met with the media on Wednesday to recount their gold-medal adventure and will sign autographs after tonight’s game.
“Obviously that the tournament was special, but it’s behind us now,” said Cozens. “We have a new goal and that’s to be the WHL champions. We have to focus on that and focus on the team and take everything one day at a time.”
After tonight’s game the Hurricanes head to Medicine Hat Saturday to take on the Tigers.
That begins a lengthy seven-game road trek starting Wednesday in Moose Jaw against the Warriors.
The Hurricanes next home game is Feb. 8 when the Prince Albert Raiders visit the Enmax Centre.
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