Hitmen set to open playoffs against rival Kootenay
The two teams will collide in the first two games at the Scotiabank Saddledome Thursday, March 20 and Saturday, March 22 before heading to Cranbrook, B.C. for games three and four of the best-of-seven series on Monday and Tuesday next week.
“It’s big [playing at home in the playoffs],” said Hitmen forward Brady Brassart, who has scored four goals and added three assists in games against the Ice this season. “It’s awesome feeding off the fans, so it’ll be a big boost for sure.”
Calgary boasts a WHL Eastern Conference best 0.891 win percentage at home this season, posting a record of 28-5-1-2 for 59 of a possible 72 points at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
“It’s nice to start a series at home,” said Hitmen captain and defenceman Jaynen Rissling. “It gets the support of the fans and the crowd into it right away, especially against a team like Kootenay.”
Kootenay will be entering the playoffs motivated by their teammate, Tim Bozon’s recent unfortunate event. Bozon was diagnosed with meningitis earlier this month and missed the last part of the season as he recovers in Saskatoon.
The Hitmen will have to shut down Kootenay’s top players including Sam Reinhart (36g, 69a), Jaedon Descheneau (44g, 54a) and Luke Philip (31g, 46a) who scored a combined 43 points against the Hitmen this season.
“We have to be physical on them from the start of the series,” Rissling said. “They’re a line that isn’t very big and I think they can be intimidated easily.”
Hitmen defenceman Kenton Helgesen cited limiting Kootenay's time and space as an area of focus.
“We want to play as hard as we can against them and give them the least amount of time and space,” the blueliner said. “They are very good offensively and we have to make sure we know where they are at all times on the ice.”
This is will be the fourth time that Calgary and Kootenay faceoff in the WHL postseason and the first time since the 2006-07 season in the quarterfinals. The Hitmen won the series four games to three and went on to lose to the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Hitmen and the Ice also met in back to back playoffs during the 1998-99 and 1999-00 seasons with each team having a series win over the other.
This season the Hitmen and the Ice split the season with four wins against one another, but two of Kootenay’s losses came in overtime and a shootout.
In their first meeting of the season, Calgary hosted the Ice Oct. 4, Rissling led the charge for the Hitmen scoring a pair of goals and helping Calgary win 4-3 in overtime. The teams met again the next night in Cranbrook where the Ice would win their first game of the season series 4-2. Each of Reinhart, Philp and Descheneau had a goal and an assist for Kootenay, while Jake Virtanen had his own two-point night scoring a goal and an assist.
The teams’ third game of the season saw the host Kootenay Ice beat the Hitmen for the second time in a row on Nov. 5, by a score of 3-1. Jake Virtanen scored Calgary’s lone goal that night and Ice forward Jon Martin had a pair of goal in the win.
The teams would play again a week later in Calgary, where Kootenay continued their winning streak over Calgary, winning by a score of 5-1. In the teams’ final meeting of 2013, the Hitmen would put an end to Kootenay’s winning streak winning by a score of 4-1 Dec. 30. Forwards Greg Chase and Cal Babych each had a goal and an assist for the Hitmen in the win.
On Feb. 1, Kootenay would earn their final win of the regular season against the Hitmen, defeating Calgary 5-2. Reinhart led the Ice in points assisting on three goals including the game winner.
In the final weekend of the regular season, Calgary would secure two wins against Kootenay, winning 5-4 in a shootout on March 14 in Cranbrook, and winning by a score of 6-3 the next night in Calgary. Chase had three goals and two assists in those two games and was a plus-6 over the weekend.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jaynen Rissling (8g+29a=37p)
Greg Chase (35g+50a=85p)
Jake Virtanen (45g+26a=71p)
Jaedon Descheneau (44g+54a=98p)
Sam Reinhart (36g+69a=105p)
Jagger Dirk (10g+38a=48p)