The Calgary Hitmen have secured home ice advantage for the first round of playoffs as they prevailed 5-2 over the Red Deer Rebels this afternoon in front of 13,100 fans at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“It’s really nice to start at home in the playoffs – you get that momentum early from the fans,” commented Brady Brassart on starting the playoff race in Calgary.
Hitmen fans were treated to an exciting addition on the Calgary roster as the first round Bantam Draft pick, Jake Virtanen made his debut on Saddledome ice. Virtanen made the most of his opportunity, scoring his third goal in seven games played with the Hitmen this season.
“It’s a big jump for me from playing major midget to the WHL. The players are bigger and faster, the puck moves faster,” said Virtanen who picked up second star, hit of the game and a point in his Dome debut.
Calgary lit up the goal lamp six minutes into the first frame. Defenceman, Collin Bowman landed a wrist shot in the back of the net through a screen as it hit the stick of Rebels’ winger Mason Burr and deflected past Bolton Pouliot.
Just over five minutes later, Virtanen fielded a precision pass from Chase Clayton on the powerplay rush and buried it his first home ice marker for a 2-0 score.
“I got a pass from Chase Clayton and scored, put it top shelf. I just saw the crowd go crazy. It was a good feeling,” commented Virtanen on the special moment.
Brassart had his own take on the young Hitmen player, “For a 15-year-old that kid is so dynamic with the puck. With that shot, I didn’t see more than two inches of room there so it blows my mind how he got it there so quick.”
Rebels captain, Adam Kambeitz put his team on the board as he battled past Kenton Helgesen and sliced the lead in half.
A little over three minutes later, Brady Brassart dug up the puck in front on the blue paint and popped it in to re-establish the two-goal cushion.
Red Deer showed some fight early in the third as John Persson struck to put the Rebels to within one. But the Red Deer charge was deflated 30 seconds later as Brady Brassart buried his second of the night and reached the 25 regular season goal plateau for the first time in his WHL career.
“You know it’s good. I was talking to Vic (Victor Rask) and mentioned he reached 30 and it would be nice for him to get me to 25. Obviously, he got the two assists,” chuckled Brassart. “It feels good that we’re going the right direction as a team.”
Jimmy Bubnick slapped the exclamation mark on the Hitmen win with his team-leading 32nd goal of the year as he tossed it into the empty net.
“I thought we played really well. We came out really strong. I think the biggest thing tonight is we were using each other out on the ice. We really stuck to game plan of getting pucks behind their D, outworking them in their corners and creating chances from down low,” added Brassart on overall game play.
In his 100th career regular season game, Brandon Glover made 13 stops on the way to collecting his 20th win of the season. The win also produced a significant feat for the Calgary goaltending duo of Driedger and Glover. For the first time in Hitmen history, two netminders have marked at least 20 regular season wins.
The Hitmen have had the Rebels number as of late, going onto five wins against the club after dropping the initial meeting of the season.
Since returning from the Christmas break, the Hitmen are 25-9-0-0.
At 87 points, Calgary is fourth in the Eastern Conference, trailing third place Medicine Hat by two points while leading fifth place Kootenay by seven.The Hitmen will open the 2012 playoffs with games 1 and 2 on March 22 and 23. Both games are 7:00 p.m. starts at the Scotiabank Saddledome with an opponent yet to be determined.
Playoff tickets will be available at all Ticketmaster locations and online at www.ticketmaster.ca starting Wednesday, March 14. For information on playoff packages and group tickets, call Customer Service at 403-777-4646.Calgary returns to action when they welcome the Lethbridge Hurricanes Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Radio broadcast on Sportsnet 960 The FAN begins at 7:00 p.m.