Merkley's a Giant-killer

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

Riley Merkley was asked to blanket sniper Gilbert Brule the last time the Vancouver Giants came to town.

Tonight, perhaps, it should be the other way around.

The Hitmen sophomore not only completely neutralized Brule, the Giants' top offensive weapon, on Nov. 7 but also scored a second-period hat-trick as Calgary cruised to a 7-2 victory.

But if Merkley's given a similar task from head coach Kelly Kisio for tonight's tilt, the 17-year-old isn't expecting an easy time of it.

"It's always a tough matchup," Merkley said. "You have to come ready and make sure he doesn't hurt you.

"A guy like Brule is always a threat. I expect him to be dangerous every time he's on the ice.

"Everyone on the team has to be aware of him."

Merkley, who played with Brule at the world under-17 championship last year, has had the upper hand in two head-to-head meetings this year.

Brule has been held without a point in both games, including the Giants' 3-0 win in Vancouver.

The 18-year-old, who had just one goal during the first three games of the G-Men's current road trip, will need to produce if the visitors are to win their first game at the 'Dome in franchise history.

But they'll face a Hitmen team desperately fighting for every point it can get.

Prior to last night, a measly three points separated first place from fourth in the tight Central Division.

"It's nuts," Merkley said. "I've only been here last year and this year. But before that, just watching, it's always been close.

"But being in the division, you realize how close it really is.

"When you win, every other team in the division seems to win. It's weird."

If nothing else, the Hitmen, who won't have the luxury of taking a game off over the next six weeks of the season, should be well-groomed for the playoffs.

"We have to play hard every night so that's good for the playoffs," Merkley said.

"You'll go into the playoffs with the mindset that you'll be facing a tough opponent -- Red Deer, Medicine Hat or Lethbridge -- so it'll be a challenge."

With the teams so closely grouped together, there will be no first-round bonus of being able to face a weaker squad.

Home-ice advantage is the only prize up for grabs.

"It's the only thing we're battling for," Merkley said. "Last year, we didn't have it against Red Deer and we played the seventh game in their barn, which is a disadvantage.

"If we could get it, it would be a huge advantage."


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