When the Western Hockey League season kicked off on Friday, September 20, the Brandon Wheat Kings knew that 68 games were ahead and that included 10 against their new provincial rival, the Winnipeg ICE.
Brandon split their first two games of the season against Winnipeg, and then they were swept by Moose Jaw in a home-and-home. At that point, the Wheat Kings were 1-3.
Things didn’t get any easier for the club to start October. They hosted the Vancouver Giants on October 4. An all-star performance from Jiri Patera and enough offence led the club to a 3-0 win over a very good club. A 2-1 defeat at the hands of a strong Edmonton club the next night saw Brandon drop to 2-4.
Perhaps their game on Sunday, October 6, was a turning point for all the right reasons. In Saskatoon to cap off a stretch of three games in three nights, Brandon stunned Saskatoon by scoring two goals late and earning the win in the shootout.
At 3-4, Brandon played their final home game until November over the weekend against Saskatoon. A back-and-forth game saw the Blades earn their revenge in a 2-1 win.
With all of that in the past, Brandon can now move forward with a 3-5 record and they’ll do so on the road. The club kicks off their first extended road trip of the season later this week on Wednesday against Everett. The trip includes stops in Seattle, Portland, Tri-City, Spokane, Lethbridge, and finally Swift Current. All in all, the team plays seven games in 11 days.
“I think our last game against Saskatoon set us up really well to play on the road,” said Don MacGillivray, courtesy of wheatkings.com. “Our guys are getting better at understanding how we need to play to be successful. We’re going into some tough buildings. It’s a good time for us to get away as a group. We’re looking for a lot of hard work and for our guys to gel.”
“We’re half a step off at times. Getting away will be good for us,” he continued.
As of this posting, Brandon’s opponents are a combined 27-24-2-3. 15 of those wins come from the US Divison as Portland, Everett, and Tri-City all have five. Of course, these records will change as the days go on and the trip continues for the Wheat Kings.
There’s one glaring stat that jumps out when talking about the 3-5 Wheat Kings and that’s converting on the power play. It’s something that Brandon has yet to do very much this season. They are just 6-for-37 on the man advantage. That’s just 16.2%, which is 19th in the league.
In their last two games against Saskatoon, Brandon went 0-for-10. Their last power-play goal was against Edmonton when they tallied one.
“I think that sometimes happens when you’re pressing early, and things don’t go the way you want them, and guys start to grip their sticks a little tight,” added MacGillivray. “It’s just about making the right reads and getting everyone on the same page. It’s a work in progress. We have some different guys playing in different spots. It’ll get better as we go along here.”
As much as their power play has struggled, Brandon has been fantastic on the penalty kill. They’ve killed off 25-of-28 penalties they have taken. That adds up to 89.3% which is tops in the league by almost 3%.
They have also done a pretty good job at staying disciplined. Only six teams have taken fewer penalties than Brandon.
Locker room talk:
As mentioned previously, Jiri Patera will be sidelined for the next 2-3 weeks. That means he will likely miss the entire trip.
As a result, Connor Ungar has been recalled from the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He will be joined by Ethan Kruger, who has had the chance to play this season and he’s been solid.
Marcus Kallionkieli continues to improve as he rehabs from an injury. He will not join the club for their upcoming trip but could join them by mid-November. He had 29 goals last year with the Sioux City Musketeers.