The WHL’s U.S. Division will begin its 24 game schedule on Thursday, March 18 when the Portland Winterhawks battle the Tri-City Americans. The B.C. Division; meanwhile, begins on Friday, March 26.
In the prairies, the Eastern Division is just days away from beginning a season like none other, as the Central Division already has.
All seven teams are now inside the Regina hub which includes the Brandon Wheat Kings who arrived at their dorm rooms this past weekend. Brandon will play every one in their division four times beginning with a game against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Friday afternoon at 4:00 CST. The 24 game campaign wraps up less than two months from now on April 28 as Brandon battles Saskatoon.
The Wheat Kings got on the ice for the first time back on Friday and now, the team’s preparation continues with opening day set for Friday.
Don MacGillivray, Head Coach for the Wheat Kings says everyone came into camp in shape and ready to go.
“It was really exciting to get back at it, you could see all the smiles from everyone,” said MacGillivray. “It’s been a great experience so far and we’re just continuing to get ready to play 24 games.”
This year’s roster of 24 includes 16 returning players, three of which are Lynden McCallum, Marcus Sekundiak, and Reid Perepeluk, the three 20-year-olds on the roster.
Brandon’s top three picks in the 2019 draft have joined the club as Nate Danielson, Rylen Roersma, and Tyson Zimmer will all look to make an impact in this development season, one that at this point, does not include playoffs.
2003-born: Jake Chiasson, Jaxon Dube, Brett Hyland, Logen Hammett, and Jacob Hoffrogge.
2002-born: Ridly Greig, Riley Ginnell, Nolan Ritchie, Ty Thorpe, Vincent Iorio, and Connor Ungar.
2001-born: Ben McCartney, Jonny Lambos, Chad Nychuk, Neithan Salame, Braden Schneider, Rylan Thiessen, and Ethan Kruger.
Of Brandon’s 22 skaters, only four haven’t played any Major Junior hockey. Tyson Zimmer — the team’s sixth-overall pick in 2019 — hasn’t played in the Western Hockey League before; however, he started this season with the Waywayseecappo Wolverines of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. In 10 games with them, Zimmer had four goals and four assists.
Between the pipes, the Wheat Kings are very confident in their goaltending duo which includes Connor Ungar and Ethan Kruger.
“I like the mix of our group. We have some young guys, but they’re very talented,” said MacGillivray. “We need our older guys to lead the way and our younger guys to pick up on all their habits and develop as they go.”
Don says practices have been very intense with a solid pace and execution.
What Braden Schneider has achieved in the past several months has been well documented and all of the recognition the young man from Prince Albert has received has been well deserved.
Beginning with draft day, Braden was taken 19th overall by the New York Rangers. He then entered the Red Deer bubble where he went on to make Team Canada as he helped the Canadians earn silver at the IIHF World Junior Championships.
And when the Brandon Wheat Kings do open up their East Division schedule on Friday, Braden will be wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey as he will serve as the team’s captain.
Ridly Greig and Marcus Sekundiak will serve as alternate captains. Ben McCartney will serve as an alternate captain during home games while Lynden McCallum will wear the ‘A’ during away games.
The five have combined to play 789 games in a Brandon Wheat Kings jersey. Ben McCartney has scored the most goals at 48 while Ridly Greig has lit the twine 40 times. In all, the five have scored 142 goals and added 229 helpers combined. Seven more goals and 12 assists have been added in 39 playoff games.
It is without a doubt a very busy one for all East Division teams. Brandon plays 10 games from this Friday to the end of the month and the remaining 14 games will be played over 28 days in April.
The Wheat Kings only have three back-to-back games in as many nights, starting this weekend with Friday’s game against Moose Jaw before they battle Winnipeg on Sunday which will go down as the first ‘All-Manitoba’ battle of the season.
MacGillvray says that after a year of waiting, the Wheat Kings are ready to hit the ice in a game.
“Everyone is very excited to start playing games,” ended MacGillivray. “Our goal is to translate our practices into games because we really like how we have looked at practice. It’s going to be a new feeling with no fans in the stands, so it’s going to be a unique experience for all of us.”