It may turn out to be one of those hockey trades that helps both teams.
But for now it’s fair to say the Calgary Hitmen are really liking their end of it.
On Jan. 10, the Hitmen dealt defenceman Austin Madaisky, 17, and centre Chase Schaber, 18, to the Kamloops Blazers for defenceman Zak Stebner, 19, and right-wingers Jimmy Bubnick, 18, and Tyler Shattock, 19. The Hitmen also acquired a conditional 2011 fourth-round bantam draft pick, while a conditional 2011 third-rounder went to Kamloops.
While Madaisky figures to be the leader on the Blazers’ back end for a season or two and Schaber is in line for the captaincy, the Hitmen, who also acquired defenceman Giffen Nyren, 20, from the Blazers in November, are on their way to the WHL’s championship final.
Games 1 and 2 between the Hitmen and Tri-City Americans will be played in Calgary on Friday and Saturday nights.
In other words, Calgary very much is living in the now, while the Blazers are looking down the road.
In discussing the four ex-Blazers with anyone from the Hitmen, however, one thing is made quite clear.
“We don’t call them the Kamloops guys any more,” Calgary head coach Mike Williams says. “We did that for about a month and then got away from that. Now they’re the Hitmen guys . . . Calgary players.”
Williamson, of course, is a former Portland Winterhawks player and assistant and head coach. After being out of the game for two seasons, he signed on as Calgary’s head coach last summer. Because of that absence, he didn’t know the new guys very well when the deals were made.
He certainly knows them now.
At the time of the deal, Stebner, a native of Saskatoon, was struggling for playing time with the Blazers. He was a healthy scratch on two occasions about six weeks before the trade and, in fact, had taken a couple of turns on a forward line.
That hasn’t been his role in Calgary.
“Stebner has been a great surprise for us,” Williamson says. “He’s been very, very stable and added a lot in different situations. He has fit in really well and played against other teams’ top lines almost since he got here.”
Stebner, who has three points in 18 playoff games, sees a lot of playing time in Calgary, as he also is on the power-play and penalty-killing units.
“He has benefited from being surrounded by other good players,” Williamson explains. “That took some pressure off him. He has very high expectations and wants to do well. If he’s put in a role where he has to be a guy to completely carry the load, I think it can go backwards on him a little bit because he cares so much.”
Stebner has often found himself paired with one of two veterans — the highly touted Michael Stone or Matt Mackenzie — which has helped his game.
“With those types of guys . . . we’re not expecting one guy to do everything,” Williamson says. “They both have a lot of responsibilities.”
Nyren, a smooth-skater who was a high-risk defender in Kamloops, has opened some eyes in Calgary.
“He’s been so good for us that it’s been incredible,” Williamson says. “When he first came in we knew what he was and that he was going to bring us some offence. But we thought it was probably going to be offence at the expense of the other end. He was like that for a few weeks and then something seemed to click, and he’s been responsible defensively and a catalyst offensively.”
Williamson goes so far as to credit Nyren, who is from Calgary and has 12 points and is plus-8 in 18 postseason games, with showing the way early in the playoffs.
“When the Moose Jaw series was on the line and when the Medicine Hat series was on the line,” Williamson says, “he was a guy you could tell wanted to make a difference. It was incredible where he elevated his game to. And he did it without compromising things at the other end. He surprised all of us with where his game went to.”
The Hitmen lost three of the first four games of a first-round series with the Moose Jaw Warriors, before coming back to win the last three, and then took out the Medicine Hat Tigers in six.
Bubnick, a sixth-round selection by the Atlanta Thrashers in the NHL‘s 2009 draft, had always played on the right wing in Kamloops. When he arrived in Calgary, circumstances — injuries and Schaber’s departure — dictated that he play centre.
“He has played centre since he’s been here and he hadn’t played centre for a long time,” Williamson says. “He has played on one of our top two lines . . . whether it’s against other teams’ top lines or in an offensive role. And he’s done really well. He’s fit in very well and done a lot of good things for us.”
That includes taking a regular shift, as well as playing on both special teams.
Williamson admitted that he would like to see Bubnick, a Saskatoon native, score a bit more.
“He finds a way to get great chances every night,” Williamson says. “He needs to bear down a little bit around the net. He gets good chances but doesn’t quite finish them, but I think he will.”
Bubnick has 12 points, but only two goals, in 18 playoff games.
Shattock, the Blazers captain at the time of the trade, has been everything the Hitmen thought they were getting and more.
When it was suggested that Shattock has been one of Calgary’s best playoff performers, Williamson didn’t hesitate in replying: “Absolutely.“
“We thought we needed to add a power forward,” Williamson says. “We saw right away why he was so coveted. He came in and was such a good leader on the bench. He blocked shots and killed penalties and got to the net. He’s as physical as anyone in the league.
“If we are going to continue to play, he is going to be a key part of it.”
In 16 games, Shattock, a fourth-round pick by the St. Louis Blues in the NHL’s 2009 draft, has 15 points, including five goals, in 16 games.
Shattock missed Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference final — the Hitmen took care of the Brandon Wheat Kings in five games — after suffering a head injury when he was hit from behind by forward Scott Glennie in Game 2. Shattock was back for Game 5 but, with Calgary in control for most of a 6-1 victory, he didn’t play a lot as Williamson never was forced to shorten his bench.
“In a few days,” Williamson says, “he’ll be that much better.”
Against the Americans, he adds, “Shattock will be used a lot.”