Raiders drop top seeds

ADAM WAZNY -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

Less than 24 hours after his club was putting the finishing touches on the Calgary Hitmen, Kelly McCrimmon was already looking ahead to the next series.

He won't have to look very far.

The coach and general manager of the Brandon Wheat Kings had exactly one day to prepare for the Prince Albert Raiders, as the two Western Hockey League clubs faceoff today (7:30 p.m.) in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final at the Keystone Centre in Brandon.

It's the third time in four years the Wheat Kings have made it to the WHL final four.

The team didn't skate yesterday, but that didn't mean McCrimmon wasn't busy dissecting the Prince Albert attack.

"Over the second half of the season they've really developed a good team game," McCrimmon said of the Raiders, who finished a game under .500 and 25 points back of the Wheaties in the East division standings. "They had some real key players out of their lineup for extended periods of time."

Those players being centres Jeremy Colliton and Kyle Chipchura.

A second round pick of the New York Islanders in 2003, Colliton was a member of the Canadian world junior team, though he didn't play much after suffering a knee injury in a pre-tournament game at the MTS Centre.

That same knee sidelined him during the second game of the tournament in Grand Forks, N.D., and kept him off the ice until February.

Chipchura, a first round pick of the Montreal Canadians in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, suffered a serious achilles tendon injury in December. He returned March 30.

While neither player has lit it up for the Raiders in the post-season (nine points between them), they are still a concern for Brandon.

"With those players returning, and the other players developing in their absence, Prince Albert is playing their best hockey of the season right now," McCrimmon added.

No kidding.

NO SURPRISE

In disposing of the Saskatoon Blades in four straight games and the Medicine Hat Tigers in six, the Raiders have punted two of top four eastern seeds in 2005.

If the Wheat Kings players haven't noticed what Prince Albert is doing in these playoffs, McCrimmon will be sure to remind his club before tonight's game.

"There will be no element of surprise for us," he said. "Our team has always had respect for PA and we've always played them tough. We played them last year in the playoffs, so that will add to the rivalry and competitive level."

The Western Conference final series will feature the top two teams in the WHL, the Kootenay Ice and the Kelowna Rockets (both finished with 104 points). That series also kicks off tonight.

LOCAL PICK UP: In other WHL news, the Tri-City Americans announced the signing of Winnipeg goaltender Chet Pickard yesterday.

A 6-foot-1, 200-pound netminder, Pickard, 15, played for the bantam Winnipeg Monarchs last winter where he posted a 13-6-2 record and a 2.61 GAA in 22 games.


Videos

Photos