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WHL's Calgary Hitmen to honour alumnus Ryan Getzlaf in banner raising

01/16/2015 07:00 EST | Updated 03/18/2015 05:59 EDT
CALGARY - Ryan Getzlaf returns to Calgary's Saddledome on Sunday not as a member of the enemy Anaheim Ducks, but to be celebrated as a Calgary Hitmen alumnus.

The forward watched former Ducks teammate Teemu Selanne have his No. 8 retired at Anaheim's Honda Centre just a few days ago.

At 29, Getzlaf has several more years of NHL hockey before the Ducks honour him that way. But he has reached a stage of his career where his hockey legacy has begun to be documented.

The Western Hockey League's Calgary Hitmen, who are owned by the NHL's Flames, are making Getzlaf the inaugural member of their "Forever A Hitmen" honour role.

The Regina native played four seasons for the Hitmen from 2002 to 2005 before going on to win a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007, as well as Olympic gold medals with the Canadian men's hockey team in 2010 and 2014.

Getzlaf will be at Scotiabank Saddledome prior to Sunday's Hitmen game versus the Regina Pats. His name on a banner will be put on permanent display there.

"Seeing the extent of how people welcomed Teemu and how much he meant to a lot of people around the rink and with the fans and everything makes you kind of think back on your time for sure," Getzlaf said.

Anaheim's captain since 2010 has averaged almost a point per game in just over 650 career games for the Ducks. At 28-10-6, the Ducks are pulling away with the Pacific Division lead this season.

The Hitmen helped lay the foundation for Getzlaf's rapid rise to premier-player status in the NHL.

"I wasn't fortunate enough to win a Memorial Cup or anything like that, but I got a lot of good playoff experience and good exposure," Getzlaf said. "Playing in the Western league, you learn what that 82-game schedule is like. You also get to experience things in Calgary that you don't in a lot of places.

"To see NHL teams come in and out and practise and watch games, and you get a lot of exposure to the pro lifestyle, that's a pretty good thing when you're trying to change into a pro."

Now six foot four and 220 pounds, Getzlaf grew almost four inches between his WHL bantam draft, when he was taken in the third round, and his first Hitmen training camp in 2000.

He compiled 95 goals and 125 assists in 215 games as well as 12 goals and 16 assists in 28 playoff games for the Hitmen.

A first-round pick of the Ducks in 2003, he would have played in the NHL at 19 if not for the lockout of 2004-05. But remaining in junior made him available for what is arguably the best Canadian junior men's hockey team in history.

Part of a unique class of big Canadian forwards born in 1985, Getzlaf, Jeff Carter and Brent Burns were the three towering forwards head coach Brent Sutter put on the ice for opening faceoffs.

Canada dominated the 2005 world junior championship in Grand Fork, N.D., to win gold for the first time since 1997. The tournament was the highlight of Getzlaf's final season of major junior hockey.

"Our team probably wouldn't have had a lot of guys at that world juniors had the NHL been playing," he recalled. "It was an experience I wouldn't trade in for the world."

He twice played for Canada's junior team — winning a silver medal in 2004 — and was twice a WHL all-star. He remains involved with his major junior team sponsoring a Hitmen program called "Getzlaf's Gamers" which provides Hitmen tickets to children.

"Everyone in Calgary was always good to me," Getzlaf said. "The people around the city, even when I came back as the enemy, people were always pretty good to me."

The Hitmen aren't retiring his No. 15 in Sunday's ceremony and Getzlaf applauds that.

"I think it's a good way to do it where you don't have to lose numbers," he explained.

"Especially at the junior level, I don't think you can start putting up a whole bunch of jerseys up in the rafters and not have numbers to wear, so it's a cool way of honouring somebody and not sacrificing the number forever."

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