GDB R1G1: LID LIFTER
(Photo: Lethbridge Hurricanes)
It’s here! The day has arrived! The Hurricanes will play their first playoff game since 2009 tonight at the Enmax Centre. Their opponent? The Regina Pats – a skilled, fast, entertaining hockey club that pose an interesting matchup. If tonight’s game is anything like their previous meetings, we’re in for a dandy.
Earlier this week we put together a massive series preview. If you haven’t checked it out yet, be sure to head over and get caught up on all the big stories and questions heading into the game. This GDB will pull a few things from our series preview as well as take a quick look at what to expect tonight.
Lets dive right in.
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It’s Good Friday! Most of you probably have the day off and are enjoying an afternoon with friends or family. There will be a strong contingent of regular fans who likely won’t be able to attend tonight’s game. That’s just the reality of big holidays. Nothing wrong about it. Priorities.
While I’m sure the numbers might be down a fraction, I fully anticipate a hungry, excited, and raucous crowd. I’m convinced there’s a significant number of Hurricane fans that weren’t around the last time the team made noise in the playoffs. For many, this will be their first time experiencing Hurricane playoff hockey! It’s fantastic.
I believe the team is pushing for a “white-out”, so if you’re heading to the game, remember to throw on something white. Join in on the fun! Half the fun of the playoffs is getting swept up in the excitement – joining together with the bandwagoners – and generally just making the building an enjoyable place to be.
Gametime tonight’s 7PM. Be sure to arrive early, maybe crack a cold beverage or two and soak it all in.
The Pats and Hurricanes are entering this series with what I judge to be equal standing. Sure the Hurricanes are the technical favorite but, considering how both teams finished their seasons, I don’t really see one side as a clear favorite over the other. Since the Christmas break, the Pats and Hurricanes have nearly identical records (LET: 22-13-1-1) (REG:21-13-0-3).
These two teams share a number of key characteristics. They are fast, boast a small but elite number of top line forwards, and both have young netminders dipping their feet in the WHL playoff waters for the first time. For those reasons and more, Regina should prove an entertaining first round opponent.
The Pats boast a handful of the WHL’s premier scorers, including league leader Adam Brooks. Brooks centres a line with complimentary skilled wingers Wagner and Zablocki. It was a line that shredded Lethbridge in the 9-8 shootout loss and has the potential to repeat the feat. For his part, Zablocki recorded a hat trick in that game. Can he channel the energy from that performance into tonight’s game?
The other big line in Regina consists of draft eligible centre phenom Sam Steel, twenty-year-old Cole Sanford, and Sean Richards. As an ex-Tiger, Hurricanes fans will be very familiar with Sanford. He was traded to the Pats at the deadline and has really bolstered their offense. Keep on eye on them tonight. They could turn the tide if the Hurricanes secondary scoring can’t keep up.
With the return of Washington Capitals prospect and team captain, Colby Williams from injury, Regina boasts an impressive group of blueliners. In fact, with Williams back in the mix, the Pats boast three NHL-drafted defensemen. The Pats also have Connor Hobbs, another Washington Capitals prospect, and import Sergey Zborovskiy, a New York Rangers draft pick patrolling their blueline.
Tonight I’ll be watching Williams closely. He just recently returned from a wrist injury and I’ve heard many say they question his actual health status. Can he be effective if his injury is only healed 60-70%? We will have to find out as the series progresses.
Both are extremely young and inexperienced in the WHL playoffs. At 6’4 193lbs, Hollett is tracking to be a big stud netminder in the future. For now though, it looks as if Tyler Brown is the guy for Regina. Brown finished the season with 50 games played, a .909 save percentage, and a 3.15 GAA – good for 19th in the league. Not standout numbers, but also not terrible.
Look for Brown to start tonight – but if he struggles – don’t count out Hollett. Both have earned wins against Lethbridge this season.
The Canes last played exactly seven days ago in Medicine Hat. I was at that game and I have to say that I didn’t find the loss very concerning. Lethbridge was no doubt not as hungry as the Tigers, nor should they have been. Medicine Hat was playing for their playoff lives.
No though, things are for real. Lethbridge is not a team with a wealth of playoff experience. If you believe it’s a big factor, then you might like the Pats chances in this series. Regina has 154 games of playoff experience sprinkled amongst their forwards and defensemen. On the other hand, without Justin Gutierrez, Lethbridge has a grand total of 32 playoff games under their belt.
It possible we see a Hurricanes team that come out a little tentative, guarded, or even sloppy. They know it’s a big deal to be in the post-season and they may even be feeling some pressure. It might take some time, but the Canes will eventually settle-in. The Pats might even be in a similar situation.
I find often when a playoff series gets hyped up as one thing, it turns into another. Allot people believe this will be a run-and-gun best of seven. It’s likely to be the case at some point, but I won’t be surprised if we see a feeling-out period either.
With all due respect to the accomplishments of Adam Brooks and company, the Hurricanes boast an incredible top line of their own. When combined, Estephan, Wong, and Burke account for a grand total of 272 points – 53 more than the Brooks line (and that’s with Estephan missing a good chunk of games due to injury). Kisio hasn’t always played these three together (in fact, down the stretch we saw Millette at times take Wong’s place on the top line), but when they have been together, it’s been a light’s out trio.
With Gutierrez still out with a concussion and it looking more and more likely that he won’t return, Kisio has been forced to spread the wealth around to try keep guys like Babenko rolling. Wong has, at times, moved down to play with Lindgren and Egor. Ryan Vandervlis has also taken turns up and down the lineup and despite not posting big numbers, gives Kisio options.
I should also mention that the Hurricanes have a darkhorse blueliner for fans to keep their eyes on. Brady Reagan loves playing against his former team. Reagan was acquired by Peter Anholt midway through last season in exchange for Taylor Cooper. Cooper wasn’t able to stick with the Pats as an overager this season and for his part, Reagan is doing all that’s been asked of him. In four games vs. Regina, Brady is a +9. That is a statistical anomaly well worth noting.
In goal, I have to think that Stuart Skinner will get the call. Skinner finished the season with 44 games played, a .920 save percentage, and a 2.73 GAA – good for 11th in the league. Not only did Stu have a good season, he played his best hockey in the final two months and capped it all off with a spectacular empty net goal last Friday night. The goal is a conversation for a different time. For now just know that Skinner is likely the guy that the Hurricanes will turn to tonight. All bets are off once the bullets start flying…
- Will they start Wong, Burke, and Estephan together?
- Who will they match up against the Brooks line? Do you throw fire against fire and throw out Estephan or go with Lindgren and co?
- Will the snowy weather stop people from tailgating?
- It doesn’t sound like there’s a Pats fan bus or anything substantial headed to Lethbridge. I wonder what sort of fan support we will see for the boys in blue?
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Hurricanes get down by a few goals in the 1st but settle-in and ultimately win by a score of 4-3.
OBVIOUS GDP: Fans that own a non-white Hurricanes jersey will be deeply conflicted about what to wear. “Do I go with white?? What about my brand new red Wong jersey though??” They will eventually decide to wear their jersey with a white shirt underneath… flexibility.
NOT SO OBVIOUS GDP: As a way to fire up their respective benches, Skeoch and Aaron Macklin will renew acquaintances… but not until well-into the game to avoid “staged fight” penalties.
What do you think? Who are you excited to watch tonight and what will be the outcome. Comment below.
Don’t forget to check out the sponsor of all this season’s game day articles, Graham Reimer of Dominion Lending here in Lethbridge. I personally know and vouch for the amazing work he does. If you need any advice or help with a mortgage or want to look into getting one, I cannot say enough good things about Graham and the Mortgage Crusher team.
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