When the Lethbridge Hurricanes open the season on Friday night in Edmonton, it will be 356 days after their last WHL game.
The team had no way of knowing at the time that their final goal of the 2019-2020 season — Dylan Cozens from Calen Addison — would also mark the end of an era, with the club’s two superstars graduating to NHL jobs.
“You can’t fill a Dylan Cozens’ role,” head coach Brent Kisio said Thursday.
“He’s a special player and a special kid, and we were lucky to have him.
“Same with Addison there as well, we can’t just expect a guy to fill those points or play the way he did.”
Cozens looks to be a key piece for the Buffalo Sabres already, and Addison has suited up for three games with the Minnesota Wild so far. Kisio’s club is now tasked with filling the offensive hole left by the pair; Cozens notched 38 goals and 85 points in 2019-20, and from the backend, Addison recorded 52 points in 50 games.
A number of returning players are expected to take on some of the offensive pressure in the 24-game 2021 season. Up front, over-agers Dino Kambeitz — named captain of the Hurricanes last week — and Mitch Prowse will be relied upon, as well as 18-year-old Lethbridge native Zack Stringer.
A line that included Justin Hall and Logan Barlage last season was impressive during an extended absence for Cozens and Addison, who were away at the 2020 World Junior Championship. Over that 10-game stretch, Barlage recorded 14 points, and Hall had 15.
“I think we have all the confidence in the world that we can recreate that stretch for the entire 24-game season here,” said Hall.
Defenseman Alex Cotton will be a focus for many opponents this year after a breakout season in 2019-20. The Langley, B.C., product lead all WHL defensemen in scoring, with 67 points in his 63 games; the outburst was enough for the Detroit Red Wings, who picked Cotton in the fifth round of October’s 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
“I just gotta top it, I mean, that’s my goal,” Cotton said. “I did have a pretty good year last year, but I think I can be better, for sure.”
Both Cotton and Hall are newly-minted alternate captains for Lethbridge, along with Barlage, Prowse and captain Kambeitz.
The leadership group will help the team navigate a season of living together, as well as introducing rookies to the WHL game during a season like no other.
“Being around the boys 24/7 is good, there hasn’t been much conflict yet,” Hall said with a laugh.
“But it’s a lot of fun, it’s kind of like being on the road 24/7.”
The Hurricanes have nine rookies currently listed on their roster. Cotton says while it’s an unusual year to break into the league, the group has fully embraced the unique vibe.
“For our young guys I think our team is pretty close this year,” Cotton said. “Like sometimes in the past maybe our older guys and younger guys were a little split up, but I think this year we’re a pretty tight-knit group.”
Cotton says with the team only facing four opponents this year in Alberta’s central division, the rookies will be thrust into the deep end of intense rivalries right off the bat.
“I’m pretty excited, I think the rivalries are just going to grow and grow.
“Games are going to get a little chippy sometimes, but those games are fun to play in,” he said.
So far the Hurricanes only know what the first two weeks of the regular season will look like for their schedule: the team will open in Edmonton on Friday night with a home-and-home against the Oil Kings, before a bye weekend the following week.