Rivalry intensifies

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

To steal a phrase from Bob Cole: "Oh, baby!"

We have ourselves a series.

After a couple of blowouts in Manitoba, the Calgary Hitmen and Brandon Wheat Kings are finally in tune enough to make it a real WHL post-season party.

We have bone-crushing hits.

We have line matchups and tighter checking.

We have intensity.

And, finally -- it took nearly 180 minutes of action -- we have some hatred.

Old-fashioned, playoff hockey hatred.

Cue the Slap Shot gang: "Old-time hockey! Eddie Shore!"

What had been a rather timid series, due to the lack of a rivalry as well as the one-sided scores at the Keystone Centre on the weekend, finally saw some dislike burst onto the scene in the Eastern Conference semifinal.

And it arrived in spades during last night's clash -- a 3-1 Calgary victory that gives the Hitmen a 2-1 lead in the series, which continues tonight at the 'Dome.

Whether it was the new venue, the large crowd or just familiarity breeding contempt, the percolating was more than evident over the first 58 minutes.

Calgary kid Ryan Stone gave it reason to bubble over. Stone, clearly frustrated, finally snapped when Ryan Getzlaf potted the insurance goal with 1:15 remaining, cross-checking the Hitmen captain while he was in the midst of his celebration.

Naturally, that brought Andrew Ladd into the mix. And Shaun Landolt. And Karl Alzner. And Jeff Schultz.

Then, all hell broke loose, with Stone's teammates joining into the donnybrook.

"Obviously, we're going to take exception to what he did," said Ladd, whose teammates were already ticked at Stone for a blind-sided hit on Brett Carson earlier in the period. "I'm sure we're going to give him a shot to fight.

"But it's not going to be our focus next game."

But this series is about to reach another level for reasons other than the late line brawl.

We finally know how Calgary plans to attempt shutting down Brandon's vast array of skill.

Hitmen GM/head coach Kelly Kisio has decided to pit strength against strength with his top line of Ladd, Getzlaf and Landolt facing the Wheaties trio of Eric Fehr, Tim Konsorada and Jakub Sindel. That leaves the onus of shutting down Stone, Lance Monych and Derek LeBlanc on Calgary's second line: Brett O'Malley, Tyrel Lucas and Konstantin Pushkarev.

For the record, they did a masterful job.

We finally know Brandon's defence pairing of Stephan Lenoski and Steven Later will have the responsibility of shutting down Getzlaf and company.

And we now get to see how the Wheat Kings' vaunted powerplay plans to crack a Calgary penalty-killing unit that's been outstanding through eight post-season contests.

But the selling feature that makes playoff hockey great is the nastiness and bad blood.

Like O'Malley and Stone jawing at each other at one gate of the Wheat Kings bench with Hitmen defenceman Dylan Yeo tangling with fellow rearguard Riley Day at the other door.

Like Getzlaf, tired of having Sindel's stick wrapped around his abdomen, ripping it out of the Czech's hands.

Like Stone doing his best to treat everything in a white sweater like a bowling pin.

The contempt is in sight.

"Playing a team in a different division, it takes a bit," Ladd admitted. "You don't see them a lot like we do with Red Deer.

"It's here now, though."


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