Friday, 11 March 2016

Why not the Wheat Kings?

Brandon set to challenge for a WHL title

Kelly McCrimmon has built another championship contender in Brandon.
    They are arguably the favourite road team on the WHL circuit among hotel and restaurant staffs.
    When the Brandon Wheat Kings come to down, they dress to impress and carry themselves with a class that matches their look. Hotel and restaurant staffs for years often compliment the players for how well-mannered, nice and personable they are.
    Excitement usually follows when Wheat Kings head coach, general manager and owner Kelly McCrimmon phones to make a reservation. Road businesses want the Wheat Kings to come to town.
    Those intangibles have been some of the key reasons as to why the Manitoba’s only major junior franchise finds itself contenting for a WHL title on a regular basis going back to the start of the 1992-93 season. Since that campaign, the Wheat Kings have won more than 40 games 15 times. The good habits and culture they create off the ice translates to a good culture and habits on the ice.
    Going into the 2015-16 campaign, the Wheat Kings were viewed as a favourite to possibly challenge for another WHL title. While they won’t match their blistering league leading 53-11-4-4 record from last season, the Wheat Kings have been steady.
    In the current campaign, teams like the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals have all had surges at different times that have allowed them to float to the top of the league standings.
Reid Duke (#27) battles for a draw for the Wheat Kings.
    The Wheat Kings hovered near the top of the WHL’s East Division for about the first two-and-a-half months of the campaign and have remained in the division lead since returning from the Christmas break. After downing the Blades 5-1 in Saskatoon on Friday night, the Wheat Kings have earned points in their last nine games coming off seven wins and two extra time setbacks.
    They improved to 44-18-4-2 to sit two points ahead of the Lethbridge Hurricanes (45-21-1-1) for top spot in the Eastern Conference. Brandon also sits two points behind the Victoria Royals (45-16-3-3) for first overall in the league. The Wheat Kings also broke into the Canadian Hockey League’s top ten rankings this week in the 10th spot.
    During a season where the consensus among scouts is that defence and goaltending across the WHL isn’t as strong as it normally is, the Wheat Kings might be able to finally capture their first league title since 1996.
    While they have piled up outstanding records in the regular season, the league title has eluded the Wheat Kings including last season, where they were swept away in the WHL final by the Rockets.
Jordan Papirny is loaded with playoff experience in goal.
    This season, the Wheat Kings forward group is as solid as ever. Centre Jayce Hawryluk leads the team in scoring with 42 goals and 56 assists, while 17-year-old sophomore centre Nolan Patrick has impressed with 40 goals and 57 assists. Due to where his birthday falls, Patrick, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 195 pounds, isn’t eligible for the NHL Entry Draft until next year.
    Brandon’s back end is anchored by overage captain Macoy Erkamps, who has 13 goals, 55 assists and a plus-43 rating in the plus-minus department. Russian rearguard Ivan Provorov has also provided an offensive spark with 19 goals and 48 assists to go along with a plus-58 rating. Before the WHL trade deadline, the Wheat Kings also acquired overage defenceman Mitchell Wheaton, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 223 pounds, from the Blades to beef up their physical presence.
    The Wheat Kings back end has more parts than most other teams in the league to get the job done.
In goal, 19-year-old Jordan Papirny has carried the load as a starter and has been solid. He has posted a 28-17-6 record, a 2.69 goals against average, a .908 save percentage and five shutouts. Other netminders have better numbers, but Papirny has a tonne of post-season experience.
Ivan Provorov has 67 points on defence.
    Before 4,396 spectators at the SaskTel Centre on Friday, the Wheat Kings showed how opportunistic they can be going 3-for-7 on the power play, while adding a short-handed marker. The short-handed goal was a backbreaker for the Blades, as Hawryluk scored with 1.8 seconds to play in the second to give Brandon a 3-1 lead.
    The tally came just over two minutes after Blades captain Nick Zajac potted his 20th of the season to pull the host side to within one.
    Hawryluk also picked up a power-play goal in his two-goal night. Patrick, John Quenneville and Erkamps all potted singles for Brandon. Papirny made 29 stops to earn the win in goal.
    Brock Hamm turned away 43 shots to take the loss in goal for the Blades. Saskatoon fell to 25-39-4 to officially be eliminated from playoff contention for the third year in a row.
    The Wheaties appear to be ready for a long playoff run. With the good habits they have developed off and on the ice, all they need are some breaks to go their way in the luck department and that elusive third WHL title in team history might finally fall into their grasp.

Gold Wings pull even with Stars

Chantal Burke (#39) made 42 saves to earn a shutout win against the Stars.
    The Saskatoon Stars saw their 13 game winning streak in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League playoffs come to an end on Friday night in Weyburn at the hands of the Esso Cup hosting Gold Wings.
    Gold Wings forward and University of Saskatchewan Huskies recruit Bailee Bourassa scored 48 seconds into a second overtime period to give her side a 1-0 victory over the Stars, who are the defending SFMAAAHL champions. Chantal Burke made 42 saves to earn the win in goal for Weyburn, while Emma Johnson turned away 41 shots to take the loss in goal for the Stars.
    With Weyburn’s win, the best-of-five SFMAAAHL semifinal series between the two clubs is tied 1-1. Game 3 of the series is set for Sunday at 4:45 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena in Saskatoon.
    The other best-of-five SFMAAAHL semifinal series between the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats and the Prince Albert A & W Bears is also tied 1-1.

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