Eastern Conference semifinals
(1) Calgary Hitmen vs. (5) Medicine Hat Tigers
The Hitmen were extended to seven games by the upstart Moose Jaw Warriors, and in fact trailed 3-1 in the quarter-final series before staging a late — although not surprising — rally. Did they look beyond the Warriors, or where they merely suffering from a severe case of nerves that can often afflict a heavily-favoured team? Whatever, the Tigers have a proven track record and therefore will be taken seriously by the Hitmen, who are a superior team in virtually every category. Calgary in six.
(2) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. (3) Saskatoon Blades
The Blades, with a back end as good as any in the league and a red-hot netminder in Steven Stanford, held the Rebels to a mere four goals during a quarter-final sweep of Red Deer. But the Wheat Kings will present a much greater offensive challenge than the Rebels could mount and will undoubtedly snipe their fair share of goals. Due to the annual winter fair being staged in their home rink, the Wheat Kings will open the series in Saskatoon before moving to Brandon for the third to fifth games. Will that be a factor? Not in the long run. Brandon in seven.
Western Conference semifinals
(1) Tri-City Americans vs. (6) Kelowna Rockets
The Rockets, once their rather large collection of walking wounded returned to active duty, were strong down the regular-season homestretch and rode that momentum to a seven-game quarter-final upset of the Everett Silvertips. But the ‘Tips were clearly vulnerable, while the Americans, after finishing fourth overall last season and yet falling short of a berth in the Western Conference final due to a 4-2 series loss to a Rockets team far superior to the current edition, are motivated by the need for revenge. Tri-City in six.
(2) Vancouver Giants vs. (5) Portland Winterhawks
The Giants actually finished four points back of the ‘Hawks in the conference regular-season standings but garnered the No. 2 seed as the top team in the B.C. Division. The Giants overcame shaky goaltending in the opening round to eliminate the Kamloops Blazers in four games, while the Winterhawks won four games on the road while ousting the Spokane Chiefs in seven. The ‘Hawks, blessed with a myriad of young talent, do look better on paper, but the playoff-savvy Giants are loaded with street smarts. Vancouver in seven.