The Lethbridge Hurricanes had three players make their Western Hockey League (WHL) debuts during their opening weekend against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
One of those rookies is 2020 WHL Bantam Draft 16th overall pick Cole Miller, who could have never imagined that his first home game with the ‘Canes would be in an empty Enmax Centre.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the future here and getting to interact with the fans hopefully, and getting to play that home game with the fans cheering and the building absolutely buzzing,” Miller said.
The 16-year-old is one of nine players on the Hurricanes roster listed as a rookie.
Miller, Kayden Sadhra-Kang and Easton Kovacs all played in their first WHL games over the weekend; when the team faced the Edmonton Oil Kings in a pair of lopsided losses.
Miller says his first two games were a huge learning experience.
“It’s probably something you will hear from a lot of players in their first games; it’s the speed and the pace,” Miller said.
“How fast you have to think and how fast you have to react to the pressure, it’s definitely a big jump.”
Listed at 6-foot-4, the Edmonton product describes himself as a power forward, and emulates his game after Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.
“I’m a big kid, I’ve been told that by many people,” Miller laughed. “I’ve been told that I use my body well.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum is 5-foot-9 rookie defenseman Logan McCutcheon.
The Saskatoon product played in four regular season games with the Hurricanes in the 2019-20 season, and this year has taken over the No. 2 from his former teammate Calen Addison.
The similarities in style and stature between himself and Addison are not lost on the third-round pick from 2019.
“It’s pretty crazy, he’s an incredible player,” McCutcheon said.
“Some of the things that he can do are just insane. So it’s pretty cool just to try and be able to kind of live up to that; how good he was, and how much everybody here liked him.”
McCutcheon says he utilized the extra long off season to focus on one key part of his game.
“I used all the time off just to get bigger and stronger,” he said.
“I’m a smaller defenseman, so it’s something that I needed to work on, just to battle better in the defensive zone. I think that it prepared me well, especially for that first game against Edmonton, I felt good, I felt like I was strong enough to play at this level.”
Both McCutcheon and Miller say this year’s unique living arrangements — with the team bunking in dorms near the rink — has made the transition easier for the young players on the team, as they learn how to be full-time WHL players.
“We think that we’ve got a lot of potential with the young guys, we think that we can all grow and be really good players for the Hurricanes in the future,” McCutcheon said.
Miller says the opening weekend losses were a wake-up call for all the players, no matter their age.
“Even though it’s your teammates and you want to build a good connection with them, you have to battle hard,” said Miller. “Not only make them challenge you, but you have to challenge them.”
The Hurricanes have a bye weekend to start the month, but on Friday the WHL released the rest of the month’s schedule.
The team will play three games in three nights on three straight weekends; starting with games on March 12, 13 and 14 against the Red Deer Rebels.