By Lethbridge Herald on April 21, 2017.
The Regina Pats and Lethbridge Hurricanes have lobbed a lot of compliments back and forth heading into the WHL’s Eastern Conference final.
Their pleasantries will likely come to an end when the puck drops tonight at the Brandt Centre, but Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio won’t be the one to fire the first shot at his opponent.
“They’re such a good hockey team,” offered Kisio. “They’re so deep, they have great goaltending, their D can move the puck. There’s a reason they’re No. 1 in Canada. They are that good. It’s going to be a big, big challenge for us.”
The Hurricanes have responded to every challenge so far.
After overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against the Red Deer Rebels, Lethbridge prevailed in a tough seven-game clash with the Medicine Hat Tigers (51-20-1-0), who owned the WHL’s second-best record this season behind Regina (52-12-7-1).
Lethbridge (44-21-4-3) overcame injuries to five regulars versus Medicine Hat: Forwards Matt Alfaro, Zak Zborosky, Ryan Vandervlis and Zane Franklin, along with defenceman Calen Addison.
“We had a lot of adversity in that series,” said Kisio. “Lucky enough for us, a lot of the guys who came in did a great job. It was just awesome to see our team come together and really show the character and leadership in our room. We’re very proud of our guys.”
The Hurricanes concluded their second-round series on Tuesday — one day after Regina eliminated the Swift Current Broncos.
Neither side has had much time to rest or prepare.
“It’s a quick turnaround for both teams,” noted Kisio. “The difference with us is, the first round was a quick turnaround as well so we haven’t had a lot of days off. We didn’t sweep our first round (like Regina did) but, a good way to look at it is, we just have to keep playing and keep doing what we’re doing. We’re happy to be alive and still going.”
As for the injury situation, Lethbridge is still “pretty banged up,” said Kisio. “It doesn’t look like we’ll have a lot of guys coming back any time soon.”
The Pats are without centres Adam Brooks and Jake Leschyshyn, along with defenceman Dawson Davidson. Brooks is the only one who might have a chance of returning against Lethbridge.
“Obviously Adam Brooks is a pretty special player,” said Kisio. “We’ll approach it as if he’s playing and if he’s not they have about 11 other guys who can score goals too. They’re just a great hockey team.”
Regina and Lethbridge have some familiarity after meeting in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Although the Pats finished 14 points back in the regular-season standings, they knocked off the 46-win ‘Canes in five games.
“I don’t think it was a letdown,” said Kisio. “It was just a good series that we lost. You look at when they played Red Deer (in the next round), they played better than Red Deer in Game 7 and probably could have went to the (league) semifinals. Maybe people just underrated Regina last year.
“We didn’t. We knew they were a good club but a lot of people didn’t give them enough credit for how good they were.”
Although the Hurricanes’ roster includes some of the same headliners — including captain Tyler Wong and goalie Stuart Skinner — much of their team has changed due to graduation and trades. Therefore, Kisio doesn’t expect a carryover from last year’s meeting.
“Our team is completely different,” he said. “What our guys learned who were here is how much harder you have to compete in playoffs, but we’ve played two rounds since then so I don’t think last year even comes up in anybody’s mind anymore.”
New team. New mindset.
“We’ve learned that anything is possible right now,” added Kisio. “It doesn’t matter who’s in, who’s out. If we go out there and compete, it gives us a chance. We know how heavily favoured Regina is going to be. They have the best coach in the league and some of the best players so we have our work cut out for us. But it’s going to be a fun challenge.”
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