There’s no place like home.
Hudson Elynuik will be returning to Calgary when the Kootenay Ice take on the HItmen on Friday night, in the first part of a home and home series this weekend.
Elynuik, a 15-year-old forward, is pushing for a full-time spot on the team this year after spending the end of the season and playoffs with the club last year.
It will be special to step out onto the ice in the Saddledome, after growing up and watching the Hitmen and the Flames, where he will have an audience that includes family and friends.
“For sure it’s special,” said Elynuik. “Friends, family, all your relatives, it’s always very special and very surreal having them there to support you.”
Elynuik has grown up in the rink, both on and off the ice as a player and spectator by following the Hitmen and the Flames.
His dad, Pat Elynuik, is a retired NHLer, who played most of his professional career with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1990s.
“I’ve been in Calgary for eight years and got a pretty good look at the Hitmen for a while,” said Elynuik, “had season tickets to the Calgary Flames for a while and my dad was in the alumni for the Flames and got to go downstairs.
“We knew Tony Amonte and he gave us a very good experience around the room with the Flames and overall, it was just a great way to grow up.”
Fellow Ice teammates Matt Alfaro, Clint Filbrandt and Matt Thomas also hail from Cowtown
After Friday night’s tilt, the Hitmen will come down to Cranbrook for a rematch on Saturday night at Western Financial Place.
The Hitmen (1-1-0-0) are expected to return another tough team this year after making a run to the Eastern Conference final in the post-season, where they took the Edmonton Oil Kings to seven games.
There are many weapons in their arsenal, but one name that sticks out is Jake Virtanen, a 17-year-old who is heading into his draft year and is projected to be a top selection.
Virtanen tallied 16 goals and 18 assists last year for 34 points. He also captured a gold medal with Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August.
Virtanen just so happens to be close to the family of Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski, as they both live in the same city of Abbotsford, B.C.
“He’s a really hard-working kid, down to earth,” said Skapski. “He always comes over and plays road hockey with us and other activities, so we kind of know him well, me and my brother [Mitch Skapski].
“…He’s a very well-rounded player and has a lot of skill. Obviously, he’s a very fast player—probably one of the fastest in the Western Hockey League. He’s very good with the puck, and very talented.
“He’s a big body, and if you give him room, he’ll capitalize with it.”
The Ice recently pulled out two wins against the Hurricanes and the Pats last weekend, and are aiming to compete for a full three periods, added Elynuik.
“Competing hard, that’s our team value, we live by that every shift, you got to go hard and it’ll all work out for you,” he said. “Just play the systems and just compete.”
American excursions rare for the Kootenay Ice, as the team heads down for a swing through the U.S. Division once every two years. On the off-years, it’s the U.S. division teams that come up to Cranbrook, but because of the geographical proximity of Spokane, the Ice and the Chiefs see each other more often during the season.
The Ice will play host to their first American squad on Sunday when the Seattle Thunderbirds come to town.
However, there is one player on the Kootenay roster who has seen the T-Birds in action many times over the last couple years.
Ryan Chynoweth, who has spent the last two years in the U.S. Division with the Everett Silvertips and the Tri-City Americans, was repatriated back to Canada following a trade to the Ice last week.
“They’re a big, strong team,” said Chynoweth. “They’re normally four lines deep and they play all four lines. From experience, they’re always very physical and you just got to be smart against them.
“Their defencemen are pretty big and maybe not the fastest, so just get pucks behind them and try to work them down there.”
Chynoweth, who was picked up from the Americans by Kootenay in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, is still adjusting to his new surroundings, but didn’t hesitate to make an impression last weekend, with a fight and an assist against the ‘Canes and Pats.
“Anything I can do to help—if it’s a fight or a hit or anything to keep the puck out of the net,” said Chynoweth. “It was pretty nerve-wracking coming and playing the first couple gams so hopefully it’ll go away here and just get down to playing hockey.”
Even though Chynoweth grew up watching the Ice, which is managed by his father, Jeff, he is still stepping into a dressing room with some unfamiliar faces and finding his role on the team.
“It’s never easy coming in as the new guy, but the guys have been really good to me and I knew a couple of guys on the team so that helps and it’s been nice getting to know everyone.”
“…We got a bunch of offensive powerhouses, I don’t think that’s my role. I think I can go out there, bang some bodies around and keep the puck out of our net.”