Getting itchy for playoff run

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

The pressure has been building for awhile now. OK, it's not the equivalent of the seven-year playoff drought the Calgary Flames ended last spring.

But three consecutive WHL first-round ousters is not sitting well with the Calgary Hitmen. Calgary GM/head coach Kelly Kisio is well aware the franchise is getting itchy for post-season success.

"There's pressure here to win every year," said Kisio, whose club kicks off a best-of-seven affair Friday in Lethbridge. "That's the Calgary Hitmen, that's the Calgary Flames, that's (president) Ken King. He doesn't expect anything less than our utmost effort both on and off the ice and we'll do our best to give it to him.

"That means a Memorial Cup or going a long ways in the playoffs -- and nothing less is acceptable."

The expectations were never higher this season when The Hockey News pegged the Hitmen as the nation's No. 3 team in training camp. The early forecast turned out to be a lot cloudier in reality as the Hitmen had to wait until the last day of the season to lock up third spot ... in their division.

Captain Ryan Getzlaf said the pressure the players are feeling comes from within.

"I think we expect it of ourselves," Getzlaf said. "We're not going to say we're satisfied with our season so far. We're ready to redeem ourselves in the playoffs."

If Calgary hopes to end the streak of playoff futility, they'll have to do so without the luxury of home ice, which has proven important in recent years.

The Hitmen had a legitimate shot to beat Red Deer last spring but weren't able to take Game 7 in the Centrium. In 2002-03, the powerhouse Rebels coasted to a five-game victory. The year before that, Calgary pushed the heavily favoured Broncos to the limit before dropping Game 7 in Swift Current.


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