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Hurricanes fall in Game 7 after curling conflict forces them into smaller arena


LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Call it road-ice advantage.

The Calgary Hitmen are preparing for the second round of the WHL playoffs after posting a 4-2 win in Game 7 against the Lethbridge Hurricanes in a building that felt more like a neutral-site venue than hostile territory.

With the ongoing world men's curling championship occupying the Enmax Centre, the Hurricanes had to move across town to the smaller Nicholas Sheran Arena for their last two home games of the series.

Instead of a raucous atmosphere in their normal 5,500-seat rink, the team's home-ice advantage was blunted since only a fraction of supporters could watch in the alternate 975-seat venue.

"Actually I thought we probably benefited a little bit from a quarter of the (usual) crowd," said Hitmen coach Steve Hamilton. "It was rocking. It was a great atmosphere here but it certainly wasn't the full Enmax experience."

Upgrades were made to the arena to bring it up to WHL standards but the game still had an old-school hockey feel.

Pucks were bouncing more than normal, the play seemed less free-flowing and the usual game-day experience was somewhat muted. 

Lethbridge won the first two games of the series at the Enmax Centre but lost both games at Nicholas Sheran Arena. Both teams had to make adjustments to their style for Games 5 and 7. 

"It was terrible," said Hurricanes coach Brent Kisio. "But hey, both teams had to play. That's the main thing. But it was not WHL hockey out there. But like I said, there was two teams on the ice and it became more of a battle. Their guys battled harder."

A lottery system was used for tickets and alternate viewing areas were arranged so fans could watch on big screens.

The annual world curling championships are usually played in late winter or early spring. Canada usually hosts the men's and women's playdowns in alternating years.

When they're held in Canada, mid-sized hockey arenas are often used. That can sometimes present scheduling challenges for junior teams.

A conflict with the 2018 women's world championship forced the OHL's North Bay Battalion to make the 125-kilometre trip to Sudbury, Ont., for Game 3 of their first-round loss to the Kingston Frontenacs.

The World Curling Federation typically announces host cities for its championships over a year out, so there is plenty of time for alternate arrangements to be made.

The 2020 world women's curling championship will be played March 14-22 at the CN Centre in Prince George, B.C. The arena is home to the WHL's Cougars, who finished last in the B.C. Division this season.

Curling isn't the only scheduling conflict culprit. The long-running annual Royal Manitoba Winter Fair has butted heads with the Brandon Wheat Kings' playoff schedule in the past.

Brandon didn't make the WHL playoffs this year. The Wheat Kings have played so-called home post-season games in Winnipeg — 215 kilometres away — in the past.

The Hitmen will play the Edmonton Oil Kings in the second round. Game 1 is Saturday at Edmonton.


Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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