No motivation needed

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

CAMROSE -- Boris Rybalka doesn't have to say a word to motivate his troops tonight.

Nobody wearing a Camrose Kodiaks jersey needs a pre-game speech.

The Kodiaks have been waiting 68 days for this opportunity - and it comes this evening with Game 1 of this AJHL playoff semifinal series on home ice against the Drumheller Dragons.

It was Jan. 13 at this very same facility - the Edgeworth Centre - that Kevin Bui of the Dragons delivered a knee-on-knee hit to the Kodiaks' star winger Mike Connolly.

Connolly was left with damage to his MCL and ACL ligament in one knee and hasn't played a game since.

"This is a huge motivation tool for us (playing Drumheller)," said Rybalka, the Kodiaks' head coach and general manager. "We didn't need anything else.

"When we heard Drumheller was leading Okotoks 3-1 (in the quarter-finals), guess what our motivation was in the dressing room to beat Olds (in our quarter-final playoff series)?

"Our focus is to beat (Drumheller). The best cure (for what happened to Connolly) is we knock them out of the playoffs.

"It is that simple."

The Kodiaks enter this best-of-seven series as the top team in the AJHL.

KODIAKS HEAVY FAVOURITES

Camrose finished 24 points ahead of the Dragons in the regular season standings.

On top of that, the Kodiaks were 4-1-1 against Drumheller this year.

But the Dragons have only lost one of eight playoff games this spring.

"They are going to come at us physically," continued Rybalka, whose staff has spent six hours breaking down film against their new opponent.

Camrose is coming off a 4-2 series win against the Olds Grizzlys.

"That has to be the best series we could have possibly had," Rybalka added.

"The reason was (the Grizzlys) skated, they were physical.

"They challenged us in every aspect.

"That prepared us (for Drumheller)."

What makes this semifinal series even more intriguing is the fact Connolly could return to action tonight or later in this playoff round.

The 18-year-old Calgary native - who had 66 points in 37 games this season before his injury - was on the ice yesterday participating in his first contact practice since Jan. 13.

"It has been a long time off. I am anxious to get out there (and play), but I am not going to go out there until I know I can be a difference maker and help my team," said Connolly, who is in his last AJHL season.

CONNOLLY COULD RETURN

The decision on whether he plays tonight will be made today after Rybalka consults with the team's medical staff.

What is clear, though, is that captain Owen Chatwin will play this evening after missing two games with a nasty facial injury.

The gritty centre suffered a broken bone above his upper lip and needs an estimated $18,000 in dental work after a dirty hit in the Olds series.

But that problem is secondary to getting revenge against the Dragons.

"I can't wait to get out there and play against them," he remarked.

"I know the core of their team is 20, so they won't be coming back next year.

"So to end their junior career would be pretty nice."


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