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Calgary Hitmen face off against the Red Deer Rebels in opening round of the playoffs

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With seven games left in the regular season, the Calgary Hitmen were on the outside looking in for a playoff spot.

That's when head coach Steve Hamilton issued a challenge to his team.

He figured they would have to go 5-2 down the stretch to get in the playoffs.

The Hitmen did just that and ended up finishing in seventh place.

"I give a lot of credit to our leadership group," Hamilton said.

"They went to the guys and presented a plan with what they thought we'd need to make the playoffs.

We felt like we needed to be five and two in our last seven games to get in and get seventh and that's the way it played out.

"There's no question we had to battle and that's good for us."

PLAYING PLAYOFF HOCKEY

Captain Riley Fiddler-Schultz was part of that leadership group that helped come up with the plan.

He believes playing playoff hockey for as long as they have should help in their first round battle against the Red Deer Rebels.

"Yeah definitely, we've had a lot of meaningful games down the stretch here so we've been in a kind of different stretch of playoffs for the last month or so. We're just going to try and keep that momentum going here."

HITMEN MATCH UP WELL AGAINST THE REBELS

The Rebels had a great regular season, ending up with a 49-19-3-3 record.

They were 4-2 against the Hitmen but all of those games were close except for their last meeting when the Rebels trounced the Hitmen 9-0. Defenceman Carter Yakemchuk believes the Hitmen match up well against the Rebels.

"I think pretty good," said the 17-year-old. "I mean, we're both pretty heavy teams so I think we're right there with them. We've been with them all year and yeah I think we'll be good against them."

CUT DOWN ON TRAVEL

Finishing seventh was important to the Hitmen. First, they don't have to face the number one team in the East, the Winnipeg Ice.

A matchup with the Rebels also cuts down the travel time.

A bus trip to Winnipeg is 15 hours while it's only and hour and a half up the highway to face the Rebels.

But Hamilton knows it's not going to be easy.

"Red Deer is a good team, they've been a good team all year long from start to finish," the bench boss said.

"It's not like you're getting a soft spot to land with Red Deer as a hockey team but certainly the travel is different and you know we're going to have our hands full in the first round.

"I think that's the challenge, that's the beauty. It's a complete reset."

LAST PLAYOFF RIDE

Fiddler-Schultz is 20 years old and this is his final season in the Western Hockey League.

He says he'd like to make this a long run.

"Obviously last year we didn't get the result we wanted in the regular season but this year we earned our way to some extra playoff hockey here," he said.

"Definitely exciting for me being my last year to have another shot at it and I'm really excited for what we can do as a group here."

FIRST PLAYOFFS

For Yakemchuk, this will be his first playoffs. He says he can hardly wait to get things going.

"I'm really excited," he said.

"I know Red Deer has some crazy fans so it's going to be awesome to play there.

"It's also going to be awesome to play in front of our fans here. They're going to be loud and excited for us."

On Tuesday, Fiddler-Schultz was named a central division first team all star.

Yakemchuk got the nod as a second team all star.

The first two games of the series will be played in Red Deer on Friday and Saturday.

The series then shifts to Calgary for games three and four on Monday and Wednesday.

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