Nice city, we'll take it

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

Being a native Calgarian, Hitmen defenceman Jeff Schultz closely followed last spring's Flames run to the Stanley Cup final.

More importantly, he saw the way it fired up the city.

Didn't actively take part in the festivities, though.

At least, not that he'll admit.

"I didn't check out the Red Mile," says the towering blueliner.

"I don't know why."

All things go to plan, though, he might help write a new chapter in the Stampede City's hockey history.

At least the blueprint is easy to find -- win. That's what it takes for a true hockey town to embrace a team, which the Hitmen know very well.

"I bet everybody on the team knows what happened last year and is pretty excited it could happen to us," said Schultz, the first-round draft choice of the Washington Capitals. "We've had this first-round thing the last few years but it seemed with the Flames last year once they got past that first round, everybody jumped on the bandwagon."

That 'first-round thing' would be the Hitmen's three straight years of bowing out in the opening round.

There's one other trend to which the club will gladly wave farewell.

For the past few years, Calgary crowds haven't exactly come out in full force once the WHL playoffs rolled around.

Totals in the 7,000 range have been the norm.

When the Lethbridge Hurricanes come to town for tonight's Game 3, it's expected more than 16,000 will go through the Saddledome turnstiles.

As of last night, more than 13,000 ducats were sold. Fans are being asked to wear black to show their support for the hosts.

To help whip the crowd into a frenzy, the team will be hosting a tailgate party beginning at 5 p.m. before these games just outside Dutton's Lounge.

Schultz, who's been through a pair of Hitmen post-seasons before, can't wait to step out on the ice to see thousands of fans decked out in a Sea of Black.

"It kind of gets you up for the game and you can use the fans for energy," he said.

With that energy, however, there can also be jitters, especially for youngsters already going through the growing pains of their first post-season foray.

Players such as rookie centre Ryan White.

"It's going to be really exciting, for me especially being my first home game," White said.

"The guys are going to be really excited, the crowd will be loud like the first two games in Lethbridge but it's going to be a lot more intense in this rink with so many people. It's going to be a great experience."

Not that big crowds are going to be new to the Hitmen. After all, they drew more than 18,000 in their final two regular season clashes.

However, like everything in the playoffs, this will be a something of a different kettle of fish.

"I think everybody's going to be a little nervous the first few shifts but that's the way it goes," White said. "You just have to battle through it."

And maybe even battle to the next round, or further.

Schultz will admit it's something he's thought about.

"It'd be something to have everybody cheering for you and be in that spotlight, that's a dream come true," he said.

"This will be pretty cool."

WANNA GO?

We have a pair of lower-bowl tickets for Games 3 and 4 between the Hitmen and the visiting 'Canes tonight and tomorrow to give away to two lucky readers. If you can attend either game, log onto www.calgarysun.com, hit the contest link and click on Hitmen Playoff Contest. We'll pick a winner at random for tonight's game and contact the lucky reader by 3 p.m. We'll contact the winner of Game 4 tickets tomorrow at 3 p.m. Winners will need to pick up the prizes at the Sun offices.


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