Five things to watch in the WHL final

Neate Sager, Buzzing the Net
Yahoo! Sports


Speed vs. size

The Hitmen roster boasts some Alberta beef both up front (think of 6-foot-3, 208-pound winger Ian Schultz) and on the blue line, with veterans such as Zak Stebner (6-3, 205) and captain Michael Stone (6-4, 207).

Meantime, on average the Americans are the smallest squad in the WHL. They are the prototypical post-NHL lockout team which uses speed and skill to force bigger players to either trip, hook, hold or otherwise obstruct to slow them down. Calgary, whose leading scorer, Brandon Kozun, is listed at 5-foot-9, 164 pounds, knows size differential doesn't matter as much in 2010 as it did in 2000. It does make for an easy contrast.

Goaltending battle

Tri-City's Drew Owsley presumably has learned to live with having his size (he's listed at 5-foot-8, 156 pounds) always be the first point of reference with him. The native of southern Alberta, who did not face the Hitmen in the regular season (the teams met just once), has had a solid playoff run. People are bound to wonder how long that may be maintained; c'est la vie for a small goalie.

Calgary's Martin Jones, the WHL goalie of the year and Eastern Conference final MVP, faces far fewer question marks. He's been a No. 1 goalie in the WHL for three seasons with a GAA just above 2.00. He's pretty stable for Calgary.

Special teams

The last two standing in the Dub are also the only teams which scored more than 100 power-play goals in the regular season. Calgary had the most proficient power play and penalty kill in the 22-team WHL.

Tri-City, though, just dismantled Vancouver (No. 2 on the PK in regular season) going 7-for-14 over the final four games of in the Western Conference final. You might argue that would be unsustainable over a longer run, but it also represents their shot at springing the upset.

A fine grind

A possible X-factor is how much Calgary's tough Del Cowan-Tyler Shattock-Jimmy Bubnick trio can wear down Tri-City in its own end. It's not as if the Ams have not seen such strategies before.

Calgary's mission

Quite often, you see teams who draw on a stomach-punch loss as motivation. Calgary, not that it or anyone needs much reminder, rolled through the first three WHL playoff rounds before being stunned in a six-game final by the Kelowna Rockets.

Coach Mike Williamson's club doesn't have the mental out. They hit the point of no return once they came back from a 3-1 series deficit against Moose Jaw in Round 1.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. You may contact him at neatesager[at]yahoo[dot]ca.

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