'Bridging the time off

SCOTT FISHER

, Last Updated: 6:13 AM ET

The Calgary Hitmen have been on spring break.

They haven't exactly been lying on a sunny beach.

But the CHL's top-ranked junior club hasn't played a game in nine days.

That extended break -- thanks to an opening round sweep of the Edmonton Oil Kings -- ends tonight when the Lethbridge Hurricanes visit the Saddledome for Game 1 of the WHL's Eastern Conference semifinal (7 p.m., fan960.com).

Hitmen blueliner Keith Seabrook said the team took advantage of its time off.

"It was nice to take it to a team like that and play as well as we did," Seabrook said. "And it gives you a little downtime.

"It's imperative you stay sharp and keep working hard every day in practice.

"It's a long break, but I think we'll be well-rested for the next series."

The Hitmen won all six regular-season matchups against the 'Canes.

But the home side might be in tough in tonight's opener. There's bound to be some rust after the layoff while the Hurricanes are riding an emotional high after Wednesday's Game 7 win in Saskatoon.

The extra rest should benefit Calgary as the series progresses, but the Hurricanes could get a huge boost from a quick start.

Hitmen forward Ian Schultz said his team will not take the seventh-ranked Hurricanes lightly.

"It's a new season here, and we can't take anything for granted," Schultz said. "They're an established team with a lot of firepower.

"We'll have to stick to what has worked so far, but it should be a pretty good series."

The only other time the Hitmen had a nine-day hiatus this season was during the Christmas break.

They returned from that vacation and promptly won six straight -- all without centre Brett Sonne, who was busy winning a world junior gold medal with Team Canada.

Of course, every other team was in the same boat at that time of the season.

Regardless, the Hitmen are just thankful to be playing games again. You can practice only so many times before monotony takes over.

"The coaches did everything they could to keep us sharp with up-tempo practices," Schultz said.

"But these past eight days have been probably some of the longest and most boring I've ever had."

If anyone welcomed the lengthy rest, it was injured centre Brett Sonne.

The world junior star, who sat out the clinching game against the Oil Kings with an upper-body injury, hasn't seen game action in 11 days.

The St. Louis Blues prospect continued to skate with black aces Rigby Burgart and MacKenzie Royer at yesterday's practice but showed no ill effects.

He skated at top speed and shot the puck with authority.

Stopping Boychuk a key

If you stop Zach Boychuk, you stop the 'Canes.

The stats from the first round illustrate just how big an influence the Airdrie product and Carolina Hurricanes draft pick has on his team.

Boychuk didn't get a single point in Lethbridge's three losses. In the four wins, he had seven goals and 10 points.

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SECOND-ROUND PREDICTIONS

EASTERN CONFERENCE

- No. 1 Calgary Hitmen vs. No. 7 Lethbridge Hurricanes:

Hitmen exact revenge for last year's sweep. Calgary in five.

- No. 3 Brandon Wheat Kings vs. No. 5 Medicine Hat Tigers:

Wheaties too powerful offensively. Brandon in five.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

- No. 1 Vancouver Giants vs. No. 4 Spokane Chiefs:

Giants oust defending champs. Vancouver in six.

- No. 2 Tri-City Americans vs. No. 3 Kelowna Rockets:

Rockets riding 12-game winning streak. Kelowna in six.

(First-round record: 6-2)

SCOTT.FISHER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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