The Calgary Hitmen saw the cornerstone of their franchise, Ryan Getzlaf, returned from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks after a lengthy stay at training camp back in September of 2003. Nearly eight months later, they’re still reaping the benefits of having the former first round selection in the lineup.
For 49 games in total, Calgary had the luxury of dressing their associate captain, sharing the leadership duties with captain Patrick Wellar and associates Mark Rooneem and Mike Egener. In those 49 games, the Calgary Hitmen boasted arguably the most explosive line in the league, with rookie sensation Andrew Ladd on one wing, and either Brendan Segal, now with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, or Brett O’Malley.
But make no mistake about it, any line with Getzlaf on it will clearly be his line. Getzlaf, despite participating in roughly 70 percent of Hitmen games this season, finished amongst the top twenty in Western League scorers. Should his scoring totals not impress, certainly the fact that he lead the entire Western League in points-per-game should.
Getzlaf, who nearly averaged an assist per game with 47 helpers on the year, averaged 1.53 points a game for the Calgary Hitmen, tops in the league. Equally impressive may be the fact that Getzlaf, on a team that scored only 33 more goals then it had allowed, finished the season fourth in the league in plus/minus, with a +32 ranking.
The Calgary Hitmen haven’t been the only beneficiary of impressive play this season, either. The 18th overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft also suited up in the familiar red, white and black, representing Team Canada at the 2004 World Junior Championships, forming the “Goof Troop” line with Minnesota Wild Brent Burns and Mike Richards of the Kitchener Rangers. The trio combined for a total of 17 points in six games, six of which went to Getzlaf, who finished fourth in club scoring with three goals and three assists en route to a silver medal finish.
Certainly it was a season full of ups and downs for Ryan Getzlaf. Tasting disappointment after being returned to the Calgary Hitmen from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Getzlaf used the experience as a motivator, and subsequently lead his team to a third place finish in the Central division.
He came back from a bitter loss in the gold medal game at the hands of the United States to use it as motivation to end his second tournament of the season on a high note – the Western Hockey League playoffs.
Getzlaf and the Calgary Hitmen drew their nemesis, the Red Deer Rebels in the first round of the 2004 WHL Playoffs. The two teams, who had played 10 previous times during the regular season, a series the Hitmen took with a 5-3-2 record. In a seven game series, these two teams knew exactly what to expect of each other in a battle.
After dropping the first two on the road, the Calgary Hitmen split their home games with Red Deer, falling behind 3-1 in the best of seven series. After back-to-back wins, the Hitmen are poised to make an impressive comeback against a stingy Rebels squad.
Getzlaf, who may see his junior career end this year, is making the most to extend his season. With four goals through six games, the thought of ending his junior career on a losing note is one he refuses to accept.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Getzlaf after a recent home playoff game.
HF: In the 2003 NHL Entry Draft you were selected 18th overall by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. What was running through your mind when they announced your name?
RG: It was just an exciting time for me, to go there and be able to experience an event like that with my family. It was just an unbelievable experience. Being drafted is something every kid dreams about.
HF: Is it something you were able to enjoy, or were the nerves sort of on end, with a lot of tension running through your body?
RG: I think I enjoyed it to the fullest that I could. During the draft I was sitting there pretty nervous, but once your name gets called, it’s pretty much downhill from there. It’s an exciting time for you and you go through things and take it as it goes.
HF: Did you have any particular reaction being selected by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, or was it simply just a sense of relief being drafted, and the club was something to just put in the back of your mind?
RG: The most important thing to me was that my name was called. It didn’t really make any difference to me which team I got drafted to. Anaheim’s a great organization and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.
HF: Following the draft and heading into September, you attended the Ducks training camp. What did you take from an experience such as that?
RG: It was unbelievable to go out there and play with the caliber of players I was playing with. I mean, you’re out there with Fedorov and Neidermayer, it’s unbelievable. You learn a lot and you learn to develop into a hockey player quickly.
HF: What was the one thing you took most from out of the camp?
RG: Just the professionalism. You’ve got to be able to show up every night. Day in and day out you’ve got to show up at the rink whether it’s practice or a game.
HF: You were returned late to the Calgary Hitmen after Anaheim gave you a long look. Did you have any expectations that you might’ve remained with the Ducks?
RG: You know, you never go into any camp expecting to get cut, but it was tough. It’s hard to look at it from any point of view. You just look at it and take what comes, really. As camp went on I figured I had a shot at it, and just went out and played my game. It turned out I came back but I got a great experience out of it.
HF: Just nosing around the media room, there was some talk that the Ducks organization wished they had held onto you. Is that any consolation at all?
RG: It is a little bit. Actually, that’s the first I’ve heard of that, but it’s kind of comforting to know they still want you. It was a decision they had to make and it wasn’t really a bad one. I’ll go into camp next year looking forward to trying to make the team again.
HF: How much do you think you being returned to junior had to deal with getting another season of junior hockey under your belt, and how much was the decision a result of being unable to secure a contract?
RG: I was told that it was all about getting another year of experience. There was a lot of talk with the negotiations and all that, and it didn’t turn out that we agreed on anything. At the time I was in camp, though, they told me pretty flat out that I needed the experience and that, and they weren’t going to be able to give me the playing time to get that experience.
HF: Obviously returning you back to junior has looked like a good choice, the way you have performed. On a personal level, how much has individual success this season meant to you?
RG: A lot. Personally, it means a lot. You build your confidence each time you step on the ice and even every time you get an award or some sort of recognition, it builds your confidence level up. It’s a team game, and I’m playing for the team, but when I get that extra boost of confidence it’s only going to help.
HF: How much did leading the league in points-per-game mean to you? Is it just another statistic, or something you can look back on as an accomplishment?
RG: It’s nothing you get too cocky about. It’s tough. You never know what’s going to happen over 72 games and I was only able to play in 49 of them and obviously the stats over those 49 games were good for me and I’m just happy with my season.
HF: Obviously one of the highlights of your season would be participating in the 2004 World Junior Championships. Disappointing finish, but it must’ve been a great event to take part in. What did you take from the tournament, besides the silver medal?
RG: The overall experience was just amazing. You play at a level like that where everyone is a top player. You’ve got to learn to buy into a system and into a role really quick. I’m used to playing 30 minutes, 40 minutes a game. Down there, you’re not on the penalty kill, you’re only on the powerplay or something. You’ve got to sit back and let each player do their job. When you have a team like that, with so much talent, you’ve got to learn to play your role.
HF: Was it difficult to slide into one particular role on the club, whereas with the Hitmen, you’re played in every situation?
RG: It was a little bit at the beginning; I’m not going to lie to you. It was difficult to see a penalty taken on the ice, and then not hear your name called to go kill it. You get used to it pretty quick when you realize how much talent really is on the bench, and you take comfort in knowing they’ll get the job done.
HF: The accolades you’ve received this season, with your individual awards and achievements have certainly raised your profile. The labor negotiations are going on right now, and although your stock is rising, if you do not sign before the current agreement is up, you run the risk of taking a pay cut. Are the labor negotiations something you’re keeping your eye on?
RG: I don’t have a clue to tell you the truth. I know nothing about that stuff, and that’s what I have an agent for, it’s what he’s paid to do. I’m simply going to focus on hockey for now.
HF: And in focusing on hockey, you’re definitely a force on the ice. How would you describe your game?
RG: I have a good ability to see the ice well, and I play in all situations out there. I also feel I’m a fairly strong leader out on the ice.
HF: I’ve managed to see you play and develop throughout the course of this season. With your skill level, you’re clearly in the elite in this league. Do you ever find yourself bored out on the ice?
RG (laughing): Not bored, certainly not bored out there on the ice, that’s for sure. I’ve still got to be able to play my game. I know at times it looks like I’m slacking off watching the play develop. Obviously things don’t click as fast as they do up there (in the NHL) as they do down here, and I’m taking advantage of it.
HF: Speaking of the NHL, what do you have to do to take your game to the next level?
RG: Skating. I’ve got to learn to move my feet, and move my feet all the time. One of the biggest things (Anaheim Mighty Ducks coach) Mike Babcock taught me was to move my feet. It’s all he yelled at me about during an entire day of practice about it, so it’s all I’ve got to look forward to now.