Until last night, the Calgary Hitmen's young blueline corps had been rock solid. But there was a bit of a glitch on the back end as the Brandon Wheat Kings captured Game 5 of the WHL Eastern Conference semifinal with a 6-4 victory at Brandon's Keystone Centre. Brandon now trails Calgary 3-2.
Hitmen rookie d-men Karl Alzner and Justin Falk, both 16 year olds, were victims early on the first two Wheaties goals, which came at 1:49 and 4:57 of the first period.
Calgary co-coach Dean Evason, who handles the defencemen, said his charges didn't bear down early, knowing the Wheat Kings would be firing on all cylinders facing elimination.
"Not those two alone. We felt we were real, real soft making plays early," Evason said.
"We talked before the game about them coming at us and we had to really simplify things early and do things with a sense of purpose as far as getting pucks out and getting pucks in.
"We didn't do that. On those two goals, that's what happened. We didn't bear down and do things right early in the game."
It ultimately cost the Hitmen, who fought back to make it a contest in the second and third periods. On the Wheaties opening tally, rugged winger Ryan Reaves crushed Falk in the Calgary corner, creating a turnover picked up by Derek LeBlanc.
LeBlanc, who had three points, got the puck to an open Codey Burki who scored 1:49 into the contest.
Then, three minutes later, Falk and Alzner were again victimized by that line but this time it was LeBlanc bulging the twine after Burki crossed in the Hitmen zone with the puck and took the young Calgary blueliners out of the play.
"We'll watch what we did early in the hockey game and give them an opportunity to learn from it and go forward," said Evason.
Falk, who hails from Snowflake, Man., played just his third WHL playoff game last night and is filling in for Brett Carson, who suffered a concussion in Game 3.
"They've got one more game and one more opportunity to learn from what happened tonight," Evason said. "Next time you get put in that situation, you'll do a better job."