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Playoff Bound

Candice Ward/Photo

Next stop: Playoffs.

It’s been a remarkable season for the Hitmen, after missing out on the post-season last year the club was motivated to make a return and did just that.

The numbers 0-5-1 and 5-12-2 have been thrown around many times but speak volumes to see just how far they’ve come, ending with a 36-26-5-1 record good for third in the Central Division.

“We were hungry to get here,” Dakota Krebs said. “Without that tough stretch we had early on I don’t think we would be here or became the resilient group that we are now.

“It’s been our brand as a team to always bounce back and give it our all no matter what. We always knew we were a good team and never stopped believing.”

When all odds were stacked against them that belief ultimately was what led to their success.

Since Jan. 1, the Hitmen have rolled to an impressive 26-12-3 mark and arguably one of the hottest teams in the WHL headed down the stretch.

“It wasn’t until Christmas when we finally hit .500 and that was a huge accomplishment for us,” Cael Zimmerman said. “From there we came together and said ‘we need to put some work in and continue to climb up.’

“There wasn’t one thing that snapped that got us on that roll. It was a work in progress to get the puzzle pieces in place and we knew that we had a special group. We should be proud of what we’ve accomplished but not satisfied yet.”

And now, the stage is set for a best-of-seven series starting Friday night in Lethbridge for Game One against the Hurricanes. This series marks the first time since 2009 that the Alberta rivals will square off in the post-season, as the Hitmen swept the ‘Canes that year en-route to reaching the WHL Final.

More recently, the two clubs faced off six times this season with the Hitmen finishing 1-5 against Lethbridge and being outscored 35-24.

Either way, that was then and this is now.

“Playoffs are a whole different game,” Kaden Elder said. “What happened in the past is irrelevant and all our focus has to be on the future. Just because they had our number in the regular season it doesn’t mean anything once the series gets underway.

“As long as we stay motivated and work hard, good things will happen for us and we know that we have it in us to be successful. We learned a lot about them throughout the year and now it’s up to us to go out and play our game.”

Year after year, playoffs have proven to be unpredictable and there is no telling on how things will unfold.

One thing that is for certain, it’ll make for some entertaining hockey.

“It’s an exciting time,” Krebs said. “You find a little bit more of energy that you didn’t know you had in you and we’re going to need that every single night because it takes more dedication and drive to win in the post-season.

“This is where it matters most and what everyone plays for.”

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