Thursday, 23 April 2015

Opening Act for Wheat Kings, Hitmen

  The Brandon Wheat Kings open the Western Hockey League's Eastern Conference Final on Friday night when they play host to the Calgary Hitmen (7:38 p.m., Westman Communications Group Place).

  It's been a week since both teams advanced in their second round series, allowing both squads ample time to heal their playoff wounds and to scope out their next opponent.

  "Calgary's offensive strength, for me, comes from the forward position and the depth they have through their top three lines," said Brandon GM/Coach Kelly McCrimmon on Thursday, "I think that's the strength of their team."

  Indeed, this matchup is a battle of a great offensive team against a stingy defensive squad, but likely not in the context most would expect.

  Calgary leads the WHL in playoff scoring, averaging just over four goals per game, while Brandon is the best defensive team so far in the post-season with an average of 2.1 goals against per contest.

  "We have to keep playing the way that we're playing.  As you move up in the rounds, you play better teams so we have to raise our level of play in the D-Zone," said Brandon defenceman Ryan Pilon, "We have to be fast because they're going to come at us.  We have to expect that and we just have to raise our play even more."

  Adam Tambellini leads the WHL in playoff scoring with nine goals and 21 points while Connor Rankin has also been deadly in the post-season as he's tied with Tambellini for second in the league with nine goals and has added five assists in 12 post-season games.

  That duo plus linemate Jake Virtanen are likely to see a lot of Brandon's top defensive pairing of Pilon and Ivan Provorov throughout the Eastern Conference Final.

  "Just taking away their time and space, just like any good player in this league," said Pilon when asked how to limit the trio's effectiveness, "They're all tremendous players and we just have to have good gap on them, take away as much time as we can so they don't have time to do their stuff out there."

Ryan Pilon
  The good news is that it appears Brandon will only be down one man as the third round begins, with forward Reid Duke the only Brandon player still sidelined with a suspected injury.

  Rihards Bukarts, Jayce Hawryluk and Colton Waltz are all expected to play Friday after all three missed the final three games of the Regina series.

  "We've been shorthanded each of the first two series and our depth has helped us through," said McCrimmon, "As we move only, you get to Calgary, there's just that much more depth through their lineup at the forward position, that much more depth through their lineup through the defence position so for us to be able to match up, the healthier we are, the more it's going to help us."

  The Wheat Kings took three of four regular season meetings between the two teams this season, but the two sides haven't met since a 5-4 Brandon win in Calgary on January 11th.

Chaff...Bukarts and Hawryluk both carry six-game point-scoring streaks into Friday's contest...the Wheat Kings have outscored their opponents 17-3 in the third period and overtime so far in the 2015 playoffs...eight different players have scored Brandon's eight game-winning goals in the playoffs including Peter Quenneville, Tanner Kaspick and John Quenneville netting overtime goals...Brandon was 5-for-18 (27.8%) on the power-play against Calgary during the regular season and 10-for-12 (83.3%) on the penalty-kill...Brandon G Jordan Papirny is 13-3-0 with a 2.05 GAA and .934 SPCT in 16 starts since March 1st (regular season and playoffs combined).

McGauley up for WHL's Top Award

Tim McGauley
  The Brandon Wheat Kings have a finalist for the Western Hockey League's Player of the Year Award for the first time in a decade.

  Tim McGauley was named the Eastern Conference nominee on Thursday after a season in which he finished third in the league in scoring with 105 points.

  "It's definitely an honour and an accomplishment for sure but, in the end, this wasn't the main goal," said McGauley on Thursday, "The goal was to win a championship so I still have work to do."

  McGauley finished in the top-six in the WHL in several offensive categories including goals (42), assists (63), points (105), plus-minus (+43), game-winning goals (8) and first goals (8).

  "I just tried to play my role, just be a two-way player, play both ends of the rink and be more focused on that and the points just came over the year," said McGauley, "It was more of a surreal season, I don't think anyone saw it coming, so to have it happen as it did was real nice and to be nomined for Player of the Year is a huge honour, for sure."

  Among McGauley's other accomplishments this season was a 24-game point-scoring streak from January 16 to March 13, the longest point-scoring streak in the WHL in 18 years.

  "For the most part, I've been trying to play both ends of the rink and play defence fast and, ultimately, it leads to offence and it did," said McGauley, "I kept playing the same all year long and the defence really helped my game and helped me to move the puck quickly up ice and that transferred into a lot of offence."

  McGauley is the first Wheat King to be a finalist for the Player of the Year award since Eric Fehr won the award in 2004-2005, and the fifth Wheat King to be nominated for a WHL honour

  Nolan Patrick is up for Rookie of the Year, Ivan Provorov is a finalists for Defenceman of the Year, Peter Quenneville is nominated for Most Sportsmanlike Player and Kelly McCrimmon is the Eastern Conference nominee for Executive of the Year.

  McGauley will be in tough to try and become the sixth Brandon player to win the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy.

  The Western Conference nominee is the WHL top goal and point getter, Oliver Bjorkstrand of the Portland Winterhawks.

  He finished the season with 63 goals, 118 points and a league-leading +60 rating.

  The WHL will hand out their hardware at an awards luncheon in Calgary on May 6th.

Klimchuk Enjoying Uncharted Territory

Morgan Klimchuk
  Morgan Klimchuk is doing a lot of smiling these days.

  Klimchuk is into the third round of the WHL playoffs for the first time in his career; he and the Wheat Kings advanced at the expense of his former team, the Regina Pats, and he'll get a chance to play in his hometown in the Eastern Conference Final.

  "We're really excited about what we've done but I think we're doing so well because this is what we expected to do.  We expected to have some success in the post-season and we're not letting ourselves get too high because we're not satisfied yet," said Klimchuk on Wednesday, "We've set our sights on a league championship and this is another step along the way that we know is going to be real tough test for us and something that'll be a tough challenge that we're really looking forward to."

  Klimchuk was a first round pick of his hometown Calgary Flames in the 2013 NHL Draft and, like teammate Eric Roy, will get a chance to play in front of Flames' brass in this series.

  However, the major difference is Klimchuk signed an entry-level contract with Calgary in December of 2013.

  "I played many hockey games there and even this year and since I've been drafted," said Klimchuk, "My focus is going to be on our series and just contributing to getting a win for our team and not so much playing for them.  This is the longest push I've made in the playoffs and I'm looking to keep it rolling here and I'm going to be looking to play my best no matter where we're playing."

  After being acquired from Regina on January 2nd, he notched 20 goals and 50 points in 33 regular season games with Brandon and finished 19th in the league in scoring with 80 points overall.

  He's probably fit into the Wheat Kings' organization as well or better than any of Brandon's trade deadline acquisitions in recent memory.

  "Right from the moment I learned I was getting traded here, Kelly (McCrimmon) has been unbelievable with me and the whole coaching staff have welcomed me with open arms.  They didn't try to force too much on me, they kind of let me play my game and fit within the system," said Klimchuk, "Having such a good team that we do, wins hockey games and didn't lose a whole lot since I've got here has made it a lot easier."

  Klimchuk has two assists in four post-season games this spring, returning to Brandon's lineup for their Game #5 victory over Regina after missing six games with an injury.

  And it looks like Klimchuk will have plenty of help in players in returning to the Wheat Kings' lineup for the Eastern Conference Final.

  The latest is Jayce Hawryluk, who practiced with Brandon on Wednesday.

  Hawryluk missed the final three games of the Regina series after being injured in Game #2 on April 11th.

Chaff...the dates for the final three games of the Eastern Conference Final were set Wednesday, with Games #5 and #7 to be held on Brandon on May 1st and 5th respectively...the WHL finalized Regina D Connor Hobbs' suspension for the kneeing major he took against Brandon on April 15th at one game, which was served last Friday...Canada's U18 team will face Sweden in quarter-final action Thursday at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship (9 a.m. CDT).

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Impressing Flames' Secondary for Wheat Kings' D

Eric Roy
  The Wheat Kings' third round playoff opponent couldn't be a better fit for fifth-year Brandon defenceman Eric Roy.

  Roy was a fifth round pick of the Flames in the 2013 NHL Draft and needs to be signed by June 1st or he'll be eligible to re-enter the draft.

  The Beauval, Saskatchewan product says having a chance to impress the Flames' brass by playing at the Saddlesome is secondary to what's at stake for the Wheat Kings.

  "It's going to be a huge series coming up against Calgary, and it's especially going to be nice to be playing in that barn in front of the Flames' brass but I'm trying not to think about that, I'm thinking about this team," said Roy after practice on Tuesday, "We have a chance here to go to the finals and battle every night with this team and I just have to keep working."

  Roy has been a rock on the Wheat Kings' blueline in the second half of the season, scoring 32 points and registering a +26 rating in 37 games after the Christmas break while also adding seven points and a +5 rating in ten playoff games so far this spring.

  "I think I was thinking about my contract too much in the first half.  In the second half I just relaxed and played my game and enjoyed my last year here in Brandon.  It's a real special for me to finish the year here in Brandon," said Roy, "The one thing I have to do is just get better every day.  I give credit to my teammates, they've been there along the way and have helped me to this point."

  Roy isn't the only Flames' draft pick on the Wheat Kings but 2013 first rounder Morgan Klimchuk signed his entry-level contract with Calgary back in December of 2013.

  Roy is part of a strong Brandon defence core that has been magnificent so far in the post-season.

  The Wheat Kings led the WHL in goals during the regular season, averging 4.7 per game, but it's their defence that has been a bigger key so far in the playoffs, allowing just 21 goals in 10 playoff games.

  "It's one thing we really thrive on is to try and keep it to two goals or less.  That one things (Kelly McCrimmon) has been telling us each day is just to keep it to two goals or less," said Roy, "As a defence core, we take a lot of pride in that.  There's been a lot of one-goal games in the playoffs and you aren't going to score many goals in the playoffs, it's hard to score goals in the post-season."

  Ironically, Brandon's next playoff opponent has been the most efficient offensively in the post-season.

  The Calgary Hitmen are averaging just over four goals per game so far in the playoffs.

Chaff...F Ty Lewis, who finished the season with the Brandon AAA Midget Wheat Kings have spending the first half of the year on Brandon's injury list, practiced with the Wheat Kings on Tuesday...there were no other changes in Brandon's practice participants, with F Jayce Hawryluk and F Reid Duke both sitting out...the Prince Albert Raiders announced Tuesday that they've re-signed Marc Habscheid to a four-year contract...Canada closed out their round-robin at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship Tuesday with a 3-2 win over Finland to finish with a 4-and-0 record.