Thursday, 23 April 2015

Opening Act for Wheat Kings, Hitmen

  The Brandon Wheat Kings open the Western Hockey League's Eastern Conference Final on Friday night when they play host to the Calgary Hitmen (7:38 p.m., Westman Communications Group Place).

  It's been a week since both teams advanced in their second round series, allowing both squads ample time to heal their playoff wounds and to scope out their next opponent.

  "Calgary's offensive strength, for me, comes from the forward position and the depth they have through their top three lines," said Brandon GM/Coach Kelly McCrimmon on Thursday, "I think that's the strength of their team."

  Indeed, this matchup is a battle of a great offensive team against a stingy defensive squad, but likely not in the context most would expect.

  Calgary leads the WHL in playoff scoring, averaging just over four goals per game, while Brandon is the best defensive team so far in the post-season with an average of 2.1 goals against per contest.

  "We have to keep playing the way that we're playing.  As you move up in the rounds, you play better teams so we have to raise our level of play in the D-Zone," said Brandon defenceman Ryan Pilon, "We have to be fast because they're going to come at us.  We have to expect that and we just have to raise our play even more."

  Adam Tambellini leads the WHL in playoff scoring with nine goals and 21 points while Connor Rankin has also been deadly in the post-season as he's tied with Tambellini for second in the league with nine goals and has added five assists in 12 post-season games.

  That duo plus linemate Jake Virtanen are likely to see a lot of Brandon's top defensive pairing of Pilon and Ivan Provorov throughout the Eastern Conference Final.

  "Just taking away their time and space, just like any good player in this league," said Pilon when asked how to limit the trio's effectiveness, "They're all tremendous players and we just have to have good gap on them, take away as much time as we can so they don't have time to do their stuff out there."

Ryan Pilon
  The good news is that it appears Brandon will only be down one man as the third round begins, with forward Reid Duke the only Brandon player still sidelined with a suspected injury.

  Rihards Bukarts, Jayce Hawryluk and Colton Waltz are all expected to play Friday after all three missed the final three games of the Regina series.

  "We've been shorthanded each of the first two series and our depth has helped us through," said McCrimmon, "As we move only, you get to Calgary, there's just that much more depth through their lineup at the forward position, that much more depth through their lineup through the defence position so for us to be able to match up, the healthier we are, the more it's going to help us."

  The Wheat Kings took three of four regular season meetings between the two teams this season, but the two sides haven't met since a 5-4 Brandon win in Calgary on January 11th.

Chaff...Bukarts and Hawryluk both carry six-game point-scoring streaks into Friday's contest...the Wheat Kings have outscored their opponents 17-3 in the third period and overtime so far in the 2015 playoffs...eight different players have scored Brandon's eight game-winning goals in the playoffs including Peter Quenneville, Tanner Kaspick and John Quenneville netting overtime goals...Brandon was 5-for-18 (27.8%) on the power-play against Calgary during the regular season and 10-for-12 (83.3%) on the penalty-kill...Brandon G Jordan Papirny is 13-3-0 with a 2.05 GAA and .934 SPCT in 16 starts since March 1st (regular season and playoffs combined).

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