The Red Deer Vipers feel good about their chances when the Heritage Junior B Hockey League playoffs underway Wednesday.
Red Deer will start their playoff run at home against the Ponoka Stampeders, a team they have beat in all four matchups this season, although three of four games were decided by a goal, including two in overtime.
The Vipers have won five of their last seven games.
“Ponoka plays us hard every single time, it’s never an easy game,” Vipers head coach JD Morrical said. “They work extremely hard and our biggest problem with the team this year is we have a really hard time getting up for games against teams that are below us. I think it’s going to be interesting. Good first round for us for sure.”
The Vipers also played Ponoka in the first round of the playoffs last year and won the best-of-three series in two straight games.
Morrical is happy with the way his team is performing heading into the playoffs, despite losses in their last two games.
Saturday’s loss came as Morrical decided to pull the goalie late in a 4-4 tie against Airdrie because a win would have vaulted the Vipers into second place. Sunday’s loss, 7-5 against High River was partially the result of some rest for banged-up players.
“To lose to High River (Sunday) after we were up 5-1 wasn’t easy,” Morrical said.
“The game against Airdrie, we pulled our goalie when it was tied. They scored with about two seconds left. We had to win in regulation to try and get second place… We did rest a few guys (Sunday). I feel pretty confident in our team, I think it looks like if we can get past Ponoka we play Airdrie again and we’re pretty confident against Airdrie.”
Brandon Bilodeau will get the start in net for Red Deer in game one of the best-of-three series and had a 15-8 record this season to go along with a 2.89 goals against average and .917 save percentage.
“He’s going to be our go-to guy for the start of the playoffs, he earned it over the season,” Morrical said.
Puck drop for game one is 8 p.m. Wednesday night at the Collicutt Centre.