Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Hitmen clear consensus to win the west

- By Cory Wolfe

DISCLAIMER: The following prognostic­ations do not necessaril­y reflect the views of StarPhoeni­x sports editor Kevin Mitchell.

Mitchell, who’s taking some well-deserved holiday time, was unreachabl­e Wednesday when we compiled our prediction­s for Round 3 of the WHL playoffs. TSN’s Maggie the Monkey didn’t return our calls, either.

Thus, we made Mitchell’s picks by constructi­ng a primitive spinner out of a red paperclip and a “whileyou-were-out” memo — apropos, no? Well, the results weren’t overly dramatic as the paperclip projected seven-game triumphs for both the Calgary Hitmen and the Kelowna Rockets.

The Regina Leader-Post’s Rob Vanstone continues to lead the overall standings 10-2. He and I chose the Spokane Chiefs to knock off the Vancouver Giants in Round 2. Although that upset didn’t materializ­e, we correctly projected Kelowna’s six-game victory over Tri-City — a mild upset, considerin­g the Americans’ higher seeding.

Here’s a look at the final four:

Eastern Conference

Brandon Wheat Kings (3) vs. Calgary Hitmen (1)

Neither of these teams has lost a game since early March.

Calgary swept Edmonton and Lethbridge, while Brandon mauled Kootenay and Medicine Hat. So, who’ll flinch first?

The Wheat Kings, with their high-octane offence, might try to steer this series towards a run-andgun affair. Their only win in four tries against the Hitmen was a 7-6 overtime thriller Jan. 31 in Calgary. Playoffs rarely resemble river hockey, though, and a tighter style favours the Hitmen.

Calgary had no problem shutting down Zach Boychuk and the Hurricanes in Round 2. The Hitmen’s stingy defence has surrendere­d only seven goals in eight playoff games. Consequent­ly, goaltender Martin Jones has a mind-boggling stat line: 0.86 goals-against average, .957 save percentage, 8-0 record.

Consider, too, the offensive weapons at Calgary’s disposal. Joel Broda, Brett Sonne and Brandon Kozun combined for 141 regularsea­son goals, and Paul Postma (84 regular-season points) is arguably the league’s best offensive defenceman. Wolfe: Calgary in 5. Vanstone: Calgary in 6. Mitchell: Calgary in 7.

Western Conference

Kelowna Rockets (3) vs. Vancouver Giants (1)

How quickly can the Giants recover from their grueling series with Spokane?

That seven-game showdown featured three overtime battles, including a quadruple overtime affair that stands as the second-longest game in WHL history. The Giants have tremendous depth, but they have to be a little worse for wear after such a scrap.

Kelowna, meanwhile, fell behind 2-0 to Tri-City before roaring back to win four straight. Swedish forward Mikael Backlund, whom the Calgary Flames assigned to the Rockets in January, caught fire in the second round and has seven points in his last four games.

The Rockets have barely missed a beat in the new year, posting a 33-8-1-3 record including an 8-2 playoff resumé. Their second-half success included three wins over Vancouver.

Don’t be surprised more. Wolfe: Kelowna in 6. Vanstone: Vancouver in 6. Mitchell: Kelowna in 7.

to see four

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