The Calgary Hitmen would have loved to go into the playoffs with a win over the Kootenay Ice.
But in a game that had zero playoff ramifications, head coach Mike Williamson decided to give his stars the night off, give some younger guys a chance, and the result was a hard fought, back-and-forth 5-4 loss at the hands of the Ice.
“It’s the last game of the year. Everyone is thinking about playoffs and no one wants to get hurt so players were a little timid out there,” said Brady Brassart, who led the Hitmen with a pair of markers.
“It sucks to lose obviously, you don’t want to want the streak we were having to end but overall, we had a great season and it’s time to focus up on the playoffs.”
Last year, both Cody Sylvester and Victor Rask got injured very late in the season and saw limited action in the first round of the playoffs against the Brandon Wheat Kings, a series Calgary would go onto lose.
Williamson wasn’t going to let history repeat itself, and decided to give Sylvester, Rask, Brooks Macek, Jaynen Rissling and Alex Roach the night off.
“Last year, it really killed us not having so many top guys out so this year, we didn’t want that,” said Spencer Humphries, captain for Hitmen on Saturday night with Sylvester in the press box.
“Even a bump going into the playoffs can hurt you down the road. It’s good that those guys got rest and we are hundred percent going into playoffs.
“It’s upsetting that we couldn’t get the win for the fans, it was a pretty full house but we are expecting to go far in the playoffs.”
The Hitmen will faceoff with the Swift Current Broncos in the first round of the WHL Playoffs, with game one on Thursday at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
As for the game itself, both teams were slow in the first period, combining for just nine shots in the period. Two of those shots turned into goals from Ice forward Jaedon Descheneau to give Kootenay the lead.
Three straight goals from Zane Jones, Brassart and Calder Brooks in less than eight minutes would give the Hitmen the advantage.
The back-and-forth nature of the game continued in the third, with Jordyn Boyd scoring back-to-back goals to give the Ice the lead again.
Brassart tied it up half-way through the period, but Sam Reinhart iced the game with his 35th of the year with less than five minutes left.
Humphries said some of the younger guys stepped up, which isn’t always the easiest at this time of the year.
“As a young guy, I’ve been in that position where you don’t get that much ice-time during the year, then one game comes around and they say you’ll be playing a lot of minutes,” he said. “It’s nerve-wracking for those guys, and we were hoping they would step up and show us what they have and what they’ve been working on this year.
“It’s an upsetting loss but now it’s time to forget about that and focus on Swift Current.”
Hitmen goalie Mack Shields got the start, and turned away 21 of 26 shots. The combination of Wyatt Hoflin and Mackenzie Skapski only had to make 13 saves for the victory.
The Hitmen will now have a few days off before round one of the WHL playoffs versus the Swift Current Broncos. The first game is on Thursday at the Scotiabank Saddledome.