by: Chris Dubiel
The Chicago Hitmen clinched the best record in the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League by sweeping the Fort Wayne Federals in three games from Feb. 11-13. By clinching the regular season title, the Hitmen earn a birth in the USA Hockey Junior B Nationals Tournament.
HITMEN 11, FEDERALS 0
On Friday the Hitmen exploded for 11 goals, including six in the third period as they blanked Fort Wayne. Mike Lozano led the way with two goals and three assists. Chicago also got goals from Nick Muller, Brandon Kirchens, Danny Doyle, James Ugone, Andrey Kantsedal, Cody Kromeich, and Matt Gazzola. Nick Turcotte scored twice. Andrew Poetzinger stopped all 23 shots he faced to earn his second shutout of the season, along with his 11th win in 12 appearances.
HITMEN 10, FEDERALS 2
Saturday night would get off to a quiet start in terms of scoring as there were no goals in the first period. This time Fort Wayne would strike first as Brendan Lewis converted on a powerplay to give the Federals a lead that would last about half the period. At the 12:08 mark, Mike Lozano tied the score and then the Hitmen would eventually take the lead into the third period after a pair of powerplay goals by Matt Soukup.
In the third Chicago would pour on even more goals, outscoring Fort Wayne 7-1. Lozano added his second of the game, Doyle and Conner Quinn would score twice, and Michael Maines and Jonathan Stevanovich each added goals in the final frame. Willie Krafcheck made 16 saves for his 10th win in 11 appearances.
HITMEN 6, FEDERALS 3
After two consecutive blowouts, the Hitmen saw a slight drop-off in their performance, but it was still enough to beat the Federals. Fort Wayne’s Christopher Treft scored just 35 seconds in, but Chicago would respond with first period goals by Maines, Kirchens, and Nick Muller.
In the second period, Doyle scored his fourth goal of the weekend before Lewis scored to bring the Federals back within two goals. Nick Gnagni would close the scoring in the period to make it 5-2 going into the third.
Patrick Byskiniewicz added a third goal for Fort Wayne but it was not enough as the Hitmen would score again in the final minute. Maines added his second of the game with a shorthanded empty-netter to seal the deal at 6-3. Matt Johnson earned his 15th win of the season stopping 34 of 37 shots, as well as maintaining a GLJHL best 2.00 goals against average.
FINAL HOME GAME
The Hitmen will play their final GLJHL regular season game Friday at 8:00 p.m. against Wisconsin at International Ice Centre before preparing for Nationals. The tournament will take place March 24-29 in Marlborough, Ma. The franchise won the Junior B National Championship as the Chicago Jr. Huskies in 2009.