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Calgary Hitmen look to set WHL playoff record against confident Kelowna Rockets

NHL.com @NHL

CALGARY - The Calgary Hitmen can set a Western Hockey League record on Friday night with their 13th straight playoff victory.

To do that, they'll have to beat a confident group of Kelowna Rockets in the opening game of the best-of-seven WHL championship series.

"I know we're eagerly anticipating the drop of the puck on Friday night," said Hitmen head coach Dave Lowry, whose squad swept the Edmonton Oil Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes and Brandon Wheat Kings to win the Eastern Conference championship.

Meanwhile, the Rockets swept the Kamloops Blazers in the first round before ousting both the Tri-City Americans and Vancouver Giants in six games to qualify for the finals.

"This is a very good hockey team that we're playing," Lowry said. "They're coming off of a huge series with Vancouver. We know that they're going to be ready to go. For us, it's a great challenge."

After notching a hat trick, including the game winner in overtime, against the Giants on Monday night, Swedish forward Mikael Backlund has high hopes of helping the Rockets continue their post-season success against the Hitmen.

"It's not only me," said Backlund, a first round pick of the Calgary Flames in the 2007 NHL Draft. "It's going to be our whole team that's going to be dangerous for them. They're going to have to look after everybody."

The Rockets boast the top two scorers in the WHL playoffs in Jamie Benn and Cody Almond, who have put up 28 and 22 points respectively.

Defenceman Tyler Myers is coming off of a most valuable player performance against the Giants and is confident the Rockets can continue their roll against Calgary.

"We've got some guys up front that can put the puck in the net," said Myers, who's well aware that the Hitmen also have a high-octane offence. "Our defensive corps is more than capable of handling them. We're just going to focus on whoever we're out against to shut them down."

The Hitmen have 11 players who have notched at least 10 points despite the fact that Calgary has only played 12 games.

"We've got to worry about our own game and not get too hyped up about their top players," said forward Brandon Kozun, who has put up six goals and added nine assists in the playoffs after leading the Hitmen in the regular season with 108 points.

Joel Broda has paced the Hitmen attack so far with eight goals and 10 helpers, Kyle Bortis has put up 17 points including a team-high 13 assists, while Kris Foucault leads Calgary with 10 goals.

Despite missing four games with an upper body injury, Brett Sonne has contributed to Calgary's success with four goals and six assists.

"I've played with my teammates all year - blood, sweat and tears throughout the season," said Sonne, who was named the 2008-09 WHL Player of the Year on Wednesday. He'd gladly exchange that for helping the Hitmen capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup and a berth in the 2000 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Rimouski, Que.

"The individual awards and accolades are nice and all, but you play the game for a different reason and we've still got a lot of work ahead of us to achieve that," Sonne said.

The Rockets were the last team to beat the Hitmen at the Pengrowth Saddledome when they edged Calgary 2-1 on Feb. 28.

That doesn't mean anything now though, noted Kelowna coach Ryan Huska.

"Everything gets wiped clean and both teams are looking for that fresh start here," said Huska, adding that his squad can't afford to make turnovers against the Hitmen.

"That's going to be our biggest challenge because they have a very mobile back end and they have guys with great skill and they have size. That makes them a very difficult group to play against."

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