Johnson: Kisio digests tough Hitmen defeat, gets ready to get back to work
But just what the GM’s role will be next year is unclear — rumours floating about him taking a step back
Miles to the gallon (or kilometres to the litre, being technically Canadian) wasn’t the issue. They got a lot of return on the dollar.
Turns out, the tank just wasn’t quite large enough for a ride of such length, over such bumpy terrain.
“We just kinda ran out of gas,” reckoned Calgary Hitmen GM Kelly Kisio.
Had it siphoned away, little by little, drop by drop, almost without their knowing.
“In this last series,” conceded Kisio, the day after a 2-0, Game 7 loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings up north had quashed his team’s Memorial Cup ambitions, “we had a few off games. Games that probably didn’t show us at our best. We gave everything we could, but we didn’t have enough.
“Maybe that’s because we’d already played two really, really tough series, against Swift Current and Red Deer. Maybe they didn’t look that way from the outside, but believe me, they were.
“Swift Current was very physical and we had to battle to get through that. Red Deer was no different. They forced us to be at the top of our game.
“Then to play a team like Edmonton, with the skill they’ve got . . . you find yourself chasing a lot more than you’re used to. That’s tiring in itself. And then frustration sets in, sometimes penalties set in because of the frustration. Killing the penalties takes more out of you, and . . .
“It was a Perfect Storm, in a way. And we ran right into it.”
The Hitmen, five wins shy of the short trip east to Saskatoon and the MasterCard Memorial Cup, said their goodbyes Wednesday, went through their exit meetings and left to go their separate ways.
A few for a final time.
“We were underdogs against Edmonton, obviously,” acknowledged Kisio. “But we played hard. I think we left it all out there. You throw your best out on the ice and at the end of the day if you’re not good enough, you step back, shrug your shoulders, roll up your sleeves, and vow to get back to work in the summer and improve.
“It’s hard to take, but if you do your best and you still can’t get ’er done, well . . . you can’t get ’er done.”
If the Kelly Kisio era hasn’t netted the glittering jewel at the centre of the tiara, a national junior championship, that everyone yearns for, the returns have been consistently glossy. On the Kisio watch, the Hitmen have qualified for playoffs every year but one, an astonishing achievement, snared four regular season titles and worn the WHL crown in both 1999 and 2010.
The man has the uncanny knack of fielding competitive teams, drafting young talent into the organization and swinging trades to upgrade heading down the stretch and into the post-season. In an environment as volatile as junior hockey, with the wildly fluctuating turnover ratio, what he’s done is no mean feat.
Yet for all the staggering consistency in his time in charge of the juniors he still hasn’t received a promotion, that elusive key to the executive washroom, with the big team, the parent NHL Calgary Flames, in some grooming managerial capacity. It’s only human nature to want to advance, to try your at the next level up, especially when you’ve done, by acclamation, a stellar job, hitting all the major targets but one.
And so the hiring of Mike Moore as the Hitmen’s assistant GM leaves you to wonder whether Kisio might not be stepping back to teach the new guy the ropes, if not stepping away outright, when training camp for the 2013-2014 Western Hockey League season opens up. Take rumours for what they are, but that’s one of them, floating out there.
On Wednesday, though, September, the dawn of a new season and his degree of influence on that season were the furthest thing from Kelly Kiso’s mind. He was still trying to wrap his head around the entirety of the campaign just concluded and it’s sobering finish.
“If you told me at the start of the year that we’d be in the finals of our side of the league, I’d have taken it. I think anybody would’ve. In my opinion our leadership group was very positive influence on our whole team this year. And I think our young guys got a lot of valuable minutes. I think most nights we played hard.
“I think there were a lot of positives to take out of it.”
Still, to come that close to the big dance and then be relegated to wallflower status, takes time to register, to come to grips with, regardless of circumstance. A gutting ending of that sort tends to leave marks. At least for a while.
“I wasn’t on the bus coming home,’’ said the GM. “I was driving myself. That’s always tough drive. It doesn’t matter if it’s the last game of the regular season or the last game of a series or the last game of the Memorial Cup. If you lose it, you’re always.
“That a tough few hours to get through, trying to force yourself to not worry too much about it, to not start picking apart what you could’ve done differently or done better.
“But then you get up the next day, the sun comes up and away you go.’’
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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