An intense rivalry will be rekindled when the Calgary Hitmen and Red Deer Rebels meet in Game 2 of their playoff series on Friday Night Hockey.
These two southern Alberta rivals will meet for the second time in as many days following the Hitmen’s 4-2 win in Game 1 on Thursday. Calgary matched Red Deer’s work ethic in the first meeting and will be looking to do so again against Brent Sutter’s bunch.
Programming note: Tune into Sportsnet ONE and Sportsnet Pacific at 9:30 p.m. ET to watch the Calgary Hitmen and the Red Deer Rebels face off in Rogers Sportsnet’s Friday Night Hockey.
“They’re a team that works every guy in their lineup, I would say, and they work for 60 minutes,” Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson said. “They kind of challenge teams to, I guess, match that.”
The Rebels were forced to play from behind in the series’ first game as Calgary opened the scoring midway through the first period and led throughout. Red Deer will be looking to regain their dominance from the first-round sweep over Prince Albert to gain equal footing in this series.
“We need to be a hard-working team that competes hard and does a lot of detail things the right way,” said Sutter, the Rebels’ head coach and general manager. “Both teams match up pretty well. We’re not afraid at all of playing them and obviously, I’m sure they’re not of playing us. It’s a rivalry and it will be an exciting series.”
With the two cities separated by just 150 kilometers, there should be plenty of visiting team fans in each building.
“We always seem to have a pretty good following on the road and a close trip up the road to Red Deer (for Games 3 and 4), I would imagine a lot of our fans will go,” Williamson said.
THE STARS: Mathew Dumba can be a difference-maker each and every night. The first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild finished Thursday’s game pointless and a minus-two, which Sutter will surely hope improves for this one.
“I expect him to be our best defenceman,” Sutter said. “That’s what he’s supposed to be and that’s what he has to be.”
Red Deer captain Turner Elson, an undrafted free agent signee of the Calgary Flames, scored his team’s second goal midway through the final frame. The overage forward had three goals and four assists in four games in the previous series against Prince Albert and his coach hopes his captain continues to lead the way.
“He’s played extremely well and in the playoffs, he’s been our leader,” Sutter said. “He’s battled and competed hard and scored some big goals. He’s no different than Matty (Dumba), we expect our best players to be our best players.”
Carolina Hurricanes prospect Victor Rask is making up for lost time. After missing out on last year’s playoffs with a knee injury, the Swedish forward is tied for the team lead in points with eight in six games.
“Victor’s a top guy in the league and he should be a player that’s an impact guy,” Williamson said. “I think it’s a great test for him. It’ll be a tough series and he’ll have to really fight through things to create offence. I think he’s done a good job of creating offence and still being responsible at the same time.”
NAMES TO WATCH: Second-year pivot Greg Chase provided the Hitmen with some valuable secondary scoring this season and his coach sees a prospect with a lot of potential.
“Greg’s an extremely skilled player,” Williamson noted. “He sees the ice well, he can make plays and he can score. He’s got good speed. Greg has to focus on becoming more of a complete player, but as far as the skill-set goes, he’s a guy that can play with and complement top players. He’s got all those tools.”
Red Deer defenceman Kayle Doetzel won’t make the highlight reels, but plays a tough game that suits the Rebels’ style. His marching orders for this series are simple: “just be who he is,” Sutter said. “If you don’t notice Kayle, he’s doing everything the right way.”
THE GOALIES: Patrik Bartosak was nearly unbeatable between the pipes for the Rebels in their series sweep over the Raiders. That same success didn’t carry-over to Game 1 against Calgary on Thursday, but Sutter knows he’s got one of the league’s best blocking his net.
“Any team that’s going to have success, you have to have (good) goaltending,” he said. “Goaltending’s a big part of your team – it’s the glue to your team and it’s got to be good for you and our goaltending has to be good for us. Goaltending is a big part of every series.”
The opportunity to go up against Bartosak suits Hitmen starter Chris Driedger well. The Ottawa Senators’ prospect relishes the opportunity to outshine his goaltending adversary and did so stopping 28-of-30 shots in Thursday’s win.
“Chris has been one of the top goalies in the league from the start (of the season),” Williamson said. “He’s really focused on giving us a chance to win every night, being sharp for us and making those big saves when we need them. And I think he’s taking a lot of pride in matching or outplaying the guy at the other end. I think he’s excited. Bartosak’s a top, top-end goalie and I think Chris is excited for that challenge.”
WHAT’S AT STAKE: The Hitmen maintained home-ice advantage in this series by drawing first blood in Game 1. However, as both coaches will readily admit, winning on the road is crucial in a playoff series.
“We’re comfortable playing on the road,” Williamson said.
“It’s irrelevant where these games are played,” echoed Sutter. “You have to play well to have success and we went into a real tough building in Prince Albert and played well and got two wins there. At the end of the day, you need to find a way to win a game on the road or maybe two.”