The Swift Current Broncos will go into their first-round playoff series as underdogs against a Calgary Hitmen team that finished 10 wins and 18 points ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.
The series will begin Thursday and Friday in Calgary at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Games three and four will be played Monday and Tuesday at the Credit Union iplex when playoff hockey returns to Swift Current for the first time in 1,451 days.
If the series needs more than four games, game five would be Thursday in Calgary, game six would go next Saturday back in Swift Current, and game seven would be Monday, April 1 back in Calgary. All seven games will begin at 7 p.m.
The Broncos did have the edge in the season series with three wins and one loss against the Hitmen.
“The three wins against them means nothing right now,” said Broncos General Manager and Head Coach Mark Lamb. “I know a lot of people were picking Calgary for whatever reason. Calgary is a good hockey team and I don’t think we have an advantage in any area.”
Calgary scored 60 more goals than the Broncos during the regular season, the Broncos did allow 11 fewer goals against.
Special teams are the one area that the Broncos should have an advantage heading into the series. The Broncos powerplay finished fifth in the WHL at 21.5 percent, compared to the Hitmen, who finished 12th at 19.9 percent.
The Broncos vastly improved penalty killing unit was sixth in the WHL at 83.6 percent, while Calgary was ninth at 81.5 percent.
Lamb said it was difficult to pinpoint what would separate the two teams.
“What happens is when you start the series will grow legs and that’s what makes it big. I have no idea what is going to be the biggest part of the series right now. We are going to go in there, be solid, play our game, match up reasonably well.”
The Hitmen are led by veteran forwards Cody Sylvester, Brooks Macek, and Brady Brassart, who all averaged over a point a game.
“They are a dangerous team,” said Broncos defenseman Reece Scarlett. “Their top six forwards are really good. Their D-men move the puck well and their goaltending is fantastic. They are going to be a tough team.”
Broncos goaltender Eetu Laurikainen finished sixth in the WHL with a 2.40 goals against average. Right behind him was Calgary Chris Driedger with a 2.51 GAA.
“We have to play our game, a simple game, bang and crash, get pucks to the net, and sort of wear them down that way,” added Scarlett.
Scarlett felt the Broncos can take confidence out of the three regular season wins over the Hitmen. “Absolutely. We know we can beat them and that is huge, so nothing but confidence that way.”
“We have been pretty good against them all year,” added Broncos overage forward Chance Lund. “The key is to limit turnovers, get on their D, and block a lot of shots.”