Hitmen expecting the best from Rebels

If the underdog Red Deer Rebels strut into the Saddledome tonight with all the tenacity of a lap canine, Mike Williamson will be surprised. In fact, the Calgary Hitmen head coach is fully expecting the Rebels to show their teeth during tonight’s opening game of the WHL Eastern Conference semifinal and throughout the best-of-seven series.

If the underdog Red Deer Rebels strut into the Saddledome tonight with all the tenacity of a lap canine, Mike Williamson will be surprised.

In fact, the Calgary Hitmen head coach is fully expecting the Rebels to show their teeth during tonight’s opening game of the WHL Eastern Conference semifinal and throughout the best-of-seven series.

“We saw these teams play very close games during the regular season and I wouldn’t expect anything else in the playoffs,” Williamson said Wednesday.

The Rebels raised a few eyebrows when they swept Prince Albert in a conference quarter-final while limiting the otherwise offensively-potent Raiders to a total of five goals.

The Hitmen, meanwhile, took out the Swift Current Broncos in five games. Williamson insisted that the Broncos, despite the brevity of the series, provided his troops with a major test.

“It really was a close series. On paper, you see 4-1 in games and you kind of think we ran away with it, but it wasn’t that way at all,” said the Calgary bench boss. “We had really hard-fought games and I think it was good for our guys. We found ways to win but three of the games went to overtime. We definitely played a scrappy team.”

Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak continued his stellar play against the Raiders and with a 1.25 goals-against average and .962 save percentage, currently sits third among WHL playoff stoppers in both categories. Next in line is Hitmen goaltender Chris Driedger, at 1.91 and .942.

“He’s played very well, he was a big reason we were able to close that (quarter-final) series out,” said Williamson. “I think this will be another good challenge for Chris. In my mind, he’s a top guy in the league and needs to measure himself and his play against guys like Bartosak.”

The Hitmen have a large defence with the likes of Alex Roach, Jaynen Rissling and Peter Kosterman — all six-foot-four — and a solid group of forwards that includes Victor Rask, Cody Sylvester, Greg Chase, Brooks Macek and Brady Brassart, who were all key performers during the regular season and have carried that into the playoffs.

“I like our depth,” said Williamson. “We’ve talked about that from the start of the year, about our depth in all three positions — goaltending, defence and up front. We have some veteran, experienced guys who we like to lean on.

“The key for us will be staying on an even keel. This is going to be a very, very close series. Brent (Rebels GM/head coach Sutter) has his team play with discipline and structure and they work extremely hard, so we have to have those components of our game as well.”

That being said, the Hitmen are at least cautiously optimistic heading into the series.

“Everybody is confident and excited about advancing to the second round of the playoffs,” said Williamson. “At the same time we know that to keep playing we have to keep getting better and we need guys to step up and do a little bit more each and every day.”

Rebels/Hitmen Eastern Conference quarter-final schedule (*if necessary):

Tonight: Red Deer at Calgary, 7 p.m.; Friday: Red Deer at Calgary, time TBA,; Monday: Calgary at Red Deer, 7 p.m.; Tuesday: Calgary at Red Deer, 7 p.m.; Thursday, April 11: Red Deer at Calgary, 7 p.m.*; Saturday, April 13, Calgary at Red Deer, 7:30 p.m.*; Tuesday, April 16: Red Deer at Calgary, 7 p.m.*

Just Posted

One of the last buildings needed for Red Deer’s 2019 Winter Games is being completed

RDC residence is on schedule, despite ‘tight’ time-frame, says RDC official

New youth detox facility under construction in Red Deer

Expanded Protection of Children Abusing Drugs program

Woman who posed as animal control officer sentenced in Red Deer court

B.C. woman sentenced to 90 days in prison after targeting and harassing Innisfail dog owner

Two one-of-a-kind Christmas art markets held in Red Deer this weekend

Members of pottery, art clubs and other area artists show their works

Lowry has strong words for Raptors’ lack of communication after loss

TORONTO — Raptors coach Nick Nurse might not have had a good… Continue reading

S. Korea’s ‘Garlic Girls’ accuse coaches of derailing team

SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — The Garlic Girls, South Korea’s hugely popular… Continue reading

Trump administration defends its case against CNN’s Acosta

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s administration is trying to fend off a… Continue reading

Long hidden, Marie Antoinette’s jewels go up for auction

GENEVA — Diamond and pearl earrings, pearl necklaces, a giant pearl pendant… Continue reading

A No-Go: Athletes and officials weigh in after Calgary votes ‘no’ to 2026 bid

TORONTO — Rotating Olympic hosts? A single go-to destination every four years?… Continue reading

Predators may have NHL’s best goalie combo on, off ice

NASHVILLE — Pekka Rinne is off to an even better start than… Continue reading

Canadian Premier League buys Ontario’s League 1, looks to develop talent there

TORONTO — The Canadian Premier League has bought Ontario’s League 1 and… Continue reading

Most Read