Alberta's Cold War

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

There'll be no need for a pre-game speech tonight.

Whenever the Calgary Hitmen and Red Deer Rebels are forced to share the same sheet of ice, motivation is never a concern.

Hitmen boss Kelly Kisio says his players will be fired up when the Rebels invade the 'Dome tonight (7 p.m., The Fan 960).

"If you're not up for Red Deer ... ," Kisio says, not needing to finish the thought.

"We play them so often there's an obvious dislike that has grown between the organizations.

"It's the same as the Flames-Oilers, it's the Battle of Alberta."

If the last Hwy. 2 clash is any indication, the large crowd expected for tonight's tilt should be treated to a beauty.

The Hitmen played their finest game of the season Feb. 25, overcoming an early two-goal deficit to post a 5-2 victory.

"It was a battle," Kisio says of the night Brad Moran's number was retired.

"I thought it was a playoff-type game. It was a great night for the Hitmen organization with all those fans."

Power forward Andrew Ladd had a monster game that night, scoring once and adding a pair of assists, in front of a franchise record crowd of 16,388.

Ladd says the Hitmen played great hockey in the win.

"It was one of our best games," Ladd says. "We had a lot go right for us.

"Anytime you come back from 2-0 against a team like that, you're doing something right.

"And playing in front of a big crowd like that sure adds to the excitement level."

Ladd, a Carolina Hurricanes first-round draft pick who leads the Hitmen with 161 penalty minutes, has been at his surliest against the Rebels.

Red Deer's all-world defenceman Dion Phaneuf has been a regular target of Ladd's verbal and physical jabs.

"Obviously, he's one of their main guys," says Ladd. "We have to make sure we're keying on him and finishing our checks.

"I enjoy playing against him."

With home-ice advantage out the window -- Medicine Hat can clinch at least second place with one more victory -- Kisio is more concerned with making sure his team is hitting on all cylinders when the post-season dance begins in two weeks than locking up third place.

And with the Tigers and Lethbridge flip-flopping at the top of the division on a nightly basis, the third-place consolation prize has no meaningful value.

The two points up for grabs are largely irrelevant, says Kisio.

"We just want to get our game in order and make sure we're going in the right direction when we hit the playoffs," Kisio says.

"If we finish third, that's great. If we finish fourth, that's fine. The playoffs are a different season."


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