The Wheatland Kings battled the Coaldale Copperheads in round one of the 2023 playoffs and came out on top with a 2-1 series win. As they rest and recover from a physical series, the team is tasked with taking down the Okotoks Carstar Bisons, the top seed in the league boasting a remarkable 35-3 record.
While it may seem daunting to take on this juggernaut of a team, Kings Head Coach Doug Raycroft says the team just has to play their style of game and keep within their system to try and pull off the upset.
"We're the underdog for sure, and we're not going to deny that they're good, because they're a great team. For us, we just want to play the best game we can, and we've been training all year for certain systems," he said.
"It starts with just good old fashioned effort and that's the most important thing, making sure that we're moving our feet and put pressure on them because if you give them too much time and space, they'll take advantage of it for sure."
Raycroft said the Bisons have a very talented core of defenders and forwards, so it really comes down to outhustling them and finding ways to put pressure on their defense. By playing fast, disciplined hockey, Raycroft says the Kings will be able to create scoring opportunities, which they have to capitalize on.
The series is all about maximizing any opportunity you have the Bisons don't give opposing teams too many opportunities, so when you get them you have to score. On the flip side, Okotoks can make you pay for any mental miscues or lapses in effort, beating them requires a full team effort and near perfect play.
If all that sounds difficult, it's because it is. After all, a team doesn't fluke their way to a 35-3 record. However, the Kings may have a leg up on other teams in a big way, as they were responsible for one of those three losses in the Bison's season. Having that win is a huge confidence boost for the Kings, but Raycroft said they can't get ahead of themselves.
"Just because we beat them one game doesn't mean we're going to be all cocky about it or anything. But the boys know that if we play a certain way and we play good enough, we can beat them for sure. We've been telling the boys all year that when we play a certain way, we're right there with all the top teams."
Game one of the seven game series takes place tonight in Okotoks at 8:00 p.m. Game two will be on Friday in Okotoks, before game three takes place in Strathmore on Saturday at 8 p.m.
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