Sunday, 18 March 2018

PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Hurricanes vs. Rebels

It’s kind of like déjà vu all over again, only it’s not.

For the second year in a row, the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Red Deer Rebels will renew their all-Alberta acquaintances in the first round of the WHL playoffs. But if you’re looking for comparisons between the two years, the only real similarity is that the two teams will be wearing the same jerseys.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Hurricanes look a whole lot different than they did a year ago. Gone are the overage captain and leader Tyler Wong, stalwarts Giorgio Estephan and Stewart Skinner, defenseman Brennan Menell and the injured Ryan Vandervlis, amongst a few others. They have been replaced by Brad Morrison, Logan Barlage, Matthew Stanley and Logan Flodell.

Those changes in particular make it tough to compare this Hurricanes team to the one that came back from being down 3-1 in the opening series against the Rebels last season to win the series in seven. New faces mean new identity and that new identity will be put to the test in this series, as the team tries to dig itself out of a few too many visits to the loss column recently.

Interestingly enough, five of the six meetings between the Hurricanes and Rebels this season happened after that blockbuster between Lethbridge and Swift Current right before the trade deadline. In fact, the night of the deal was the first of those battles, an emotional 5-4 shootout win for the Hurricanes. Just three nights later, they took the 6-4 win over the Rebels. The two teams met once more in January, with the Windy City Crew taking the 2-1 overtime victory, courtesy of Jordy Bellerive. The final two confrontations happened just a couple of weeks ago, and much like the rest of March, they weren’t kind to the Hurricanes, as they fell 4-1 and 5-2 in those outings.

So essentially, you can call this season series a wash. But the two teams are very familiar with one another. And there are a few things to keep an eye on during this series:

#1. Jordy Bellerive – Quite simply, where the captain goes, the team goes. In the first four meetings, Bellerive had three goals and five assists. In the last two games: goose-eggs. Bellerive will be looked upon to lead this team, much like his predecessor Wong did.

#2. Secondary scoring – We all know one player can’t make or break a series, so Bellerive won’t be able to do it himself. The Hurricanes got some timely points from guys like Alfaro, Zborosky and Baer last year. Now will be the time for guys like Jadon Joseph, Logan Barlage, Dylan Cozens and Zane Franklin to step up.

#3. Goaltending – Logan Flodell is capable of carrying a team. He has had some great moments in his short time in Lethbridge, following up his stints in Swift Current and Saskatoon. When you have a 20-year-old goaltender, he’s expected to take his game to the next level come playoff time. Let’s see what happens.

#4. Red Deer’s stars – The big three really feasted on the Hurricanes this year. Reese Johnson had five goals in five games, Kristian Reichel had three goals and six assists and Mason McCarty had four goals and five assists. If Lethbridge can keep them in check, they will have a chance.

#5. Discipline – Say what you will about a Brent Sutter-coached hockey team, but they get…grittier…during the playoffs. In the last two games of last year’s series, the Hurricanes won the special teams battle, simply taking fewer penalties. You can’t be chasing Rebels around the ice all night if things get chippy, or they’ll make you pay when you head to the sin bin. Coach Brent Kisio will have some psychological warfare on his hands against Sutter, and whoever can keep his players even-keel, will have a better chance of winning.

It should be a fantastic series and it all kicks off on Friday. Let the games begin, my friends!

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