'Bridge over troubled waters?

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

It's been quite some time since the Lethbridge Hurricanes faced these kinds of expectations.

A decade, at least.

The 'Canes won the WHL title in 1997 but then failed to win a single playoff series until last spring. In fact, they'd won just four post-season games over that span.

But after last season's break-out campaign, 'Cane-iacs have plenty of reasons for optimism.

Anything less than a return trip to the WHL final would have to be viewed as a major disappointment.

Head coach Michael Dyck said the most intense pressure his players face comes from within.

"I think we put enough pressure on ourselves," Dyck told Hockey Now. "We have enough expectations on ourselves, and I don't know if we're going to feel the external pressure as much.

"I know there are going to be some high expectations, and there should be. We put that on ourselves.

"But to deflect that, we focus on what we do day-to-day and we believe in the process, and that's essentially how we're going to track the season."

Winger Carter Ashton, who is being touted as a high draft pick for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, admits his club's loaded roster puts a bulls-eye on their backs.

"We've got a lot of returning players from last year," Ashton said.

"I wouldn't say there's more pressure, but obviously, teams will be gunning for us."

Ashton played for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament over the summer, scoring the game-winner in the gold-medal game.

"I got a chance to go overseas for the Ivan Hlinka tournament," Ashton said of the annual world U-18 event. "That was a great experience and a great start to my season.

"I just tried to carry that into the season, and I've had not a bad start."

Veteran Dwight King, drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 draft by the Los Angeles Kings, said after losing to Spokane in last year's final, every player on the team is eager to take that last step.

"There's obviously pressure because of the performance we had last year," King said. "But we have a lot of key guys back, which is comforting coming into the season.

"We have a lot of young guys who are willing to sacrifice in order to go as far, if not further, than we did last year.

"Everybody's looking forward to the challenge."

Last spring's lengthy playoff run can only help as this squad prepares for a shot at the Memorial Cup.

"It's huge. A lot of us started our WHL careers at the same time, so we got to experience that together," King said.

"Now, to have that opportunity to continue it, it's exciting."

The 'Canes have gotten off to a 5-2-0-0 start this season -- and they've done it without the nucleus of their lineup.

Zach Boychuk, who signed a three-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, defenceman Luca Sbisa (Philadelphia Flyers) and sniper Mitch Fadden (Tampa Bay Lightning) are still away with their respective NHL clubs.

"Zach's in Carolina and doing good things there," King said. "But he's coming off wrist surgery, so he'll take as much time as he needs to get better.

"He might have an opportunity to play (in the NHL), but if he comes back, he's a huge player -- not just for our team but for our league."

"There's a lot of good players we could still get back -- Sbisa, and maybe even Fadden. But if we don't get them back, we have guys here who are buying in and know what it takes to win.

"If we do get them back, they'd definitely be fun to play with."


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