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Battle of Alberta reignites in WHL's Eastern Conference Final

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

- Keegan Lowe and the Edmonton Oil Kings have waited four months for this.

With a chance at redemption against their bitter rival in the WHL's Eastern Conference Final, the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta ought to be a doozy.

"We're not happy with our success against them this season," said Lowe, mentioning that the clubs haven't met since Dec. 18, 2012 (a 4-1 win at Rexall Place). "We knew that the only other chance we'd have against them would be in the playoffs, so the excitement has been building and the rivalry has been brewing since then.

"All the guys in the room have been hoping we got this matchup. Growing up in Edmonton, it's pretty exciting to have my own version of the Battle of Alberta. It's going to be incredible and I can't wait."

Edmonton has advanced to this point by eliminating the Kootenay Ice and Medicine Hat Tigers in the first and second rounds respectively, sweeping the latter.

Calgary, meanwhile, dispatched the Swift Current Broncos and Red Deer Rebels just as easily. This is the fifth time in the past seven seasons the Hitmen have advanced to the Eastern Conference Final.

While the Oil Kings were the class of the East throughout the season, ending the year with a franchise record 51 wins and 108 points, the Hitmen weren't far behind. Calgary won 46 games, collected 97 points and outduelled The Other Oil in Town by winning the season series four games to two.

"We've grown as a team, added a few pieces and we've got a lot more experience together," said Lowe, adding that the mid-season acquisitions of David Musil and Trevor Cheek, in particular, have changed the landscape. "But, I'm sure the same goes for Calgary. As the year has gone on, they've proven a lot and they've become more of a team. Their record speaks for itself, so we're expecting a challenge.

"We're both more mature and more battle-ready. It should be a fun series."

Hitmen forwards Cody Sylvester, Brooks Macek and Brady Brassart all produced at more than a point-per-game clip in the regular season.

Boasting some of the League's most talented goal scorers and a goaltender, Chris Driedger, who's posted a .946 save percentage to this point in the post-season, there's little doubt Calgary will be the toughest challenge to date.

"They have great depth starting with their goaltending and on the back end, and they can run three-and-a-half, four lines at you every night," said Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "We're looking forward to the series. If you look back at the regular season series, that rivalry has been building and you can tell with the players and how they were talking on the ice. I think with the layover from Christmas until now, it's going to be that much more exciting. Both teams are strong on the penalty kill, on the power-play and both teams can defend very well.

"It's going to be an interesting chess match. It's going to come down to discipline and which team is playing its best hockey at this time.

"We're both looking forward to it."

As tough a challenge as Calgary's potent offence will be to defend, the Oil Kings aren't concerned. In nine games so far in the playoffs, Edmonton has scored 44 goals and is showing no signs of slowing. Michael St. Croix, Henrik Samuelsson, Trevor Cheek, Stephane Legault and Curtis Lazar are all averaging more than a point-per-game in the post-season.

Then there's MVP goaltender Laurent Brossoit, a draft pick of the Calgary Flames who recently signed his entry-level deal, who's posted an incredible 0.97 goals-against average and .963 save percentage.

Just like the Hitmen, the Oil Kings are as deep as they are talented.

"There could be a couple low-scoring games and a couple high-scoring, barn burner-type games," said Lowe. "We'll take it as it goes and follow the mold of what kind of game it's going to be. Both teams can score at will, so I'm expecting each game to have its own identity."

When the puck drops Thursday night at Rexall Place, it will have been eight days between game action for the Oil Kings. The Hitmen are in the same boat, however, as they wrapped up their series vs. Red Deer way back on Apr. 11.

"We've had at least a week off after each series and it was the same situation we dealt with last year," said Lowe. "You're thankful for the rest, but once you get into practices, by Days 5, 6 and 7 of being off, you're ready to go and can't wait to play. With the excitement building for the Battle of Alberta, it's been that much longer of a week, but we're excited to get going tomorrow."

-- Ryan Dittrick, | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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