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Cooper carries Wheat Kings to win in opener

 

Taylor Cooper knows how to start a season off with a bang.

 

After scoring Brandon's first goal last season, Cooper topped that feat on Friday night by once again striking first, then adding two more for good measure as the Wheat Kings opened their Western Hockey League campaign by doubling the host Moose Jaw Warriors 6-3.

 

"Goal-scorers goals, all three of them," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said of the second-year forward's performance, which included two breakaway goals. "Just three great shots. He used his speed to get space to make a play and they're all real good shots and big goals."

 

Veteran Jens Meilleur had a goal and two assists for the Wheat Kings, who scored first but twice had to come back from a goal down before pulling away with two unanswered goals in the third period. Rookie Ryley Lindgren scored the first goal of his WHL career, while import Richard Nejezchleb rounded out the scoring into an empty net.

 

Curtis Honey made 36 saves for the victory, blanking the Warriors after Brayden Point had given Moose Jaw a 3-2 lead 6:56 into the second period.

 

"(Honey), I think, had the fewest shots of the night in the third period and I thought he made the best saves in the third period," McCrimmon said. "He made some real good saves in the third period when we needed some saves and he was real key on our penalty kill in the third and I thought he was sharp tonight."

 

The Wheat Kings ran into some trouble on the blue-line after Cooper's opening goal, midway through the first period. With captain Ryan Pulock away at the New York Islanders' camp and a trio of veterans injured, including Rene Hunter who went down earlier in the game, a Kord Pankewicz fight left Brandon with only four defencemen — two of them rookies. The Warriors capitalized with goals 30 seconds apart by Brandon Potomak and Jack Rodewald, who scored on a power play with Colton Waltz — one of Brandon's two remaining veterans — in the penalty box.

 

"We had a good start to the game and I think when we lost Rene Hunter and then Pankewicz had a fighting major right after, it took us a while to settle in," McCrimmon said. "So the second half of the first period I thought that (the Warriors) carried the play and then I thought in the second and the third we got better as it went."

 

The Wheat Kings struck three times in the second period, with Cooper netting the winning goal with 2:48 left in the frame, getting a step on defenceman Tyler Bell and going top-shelf on Moose Jaw goalie Justin Paulic, who made 27 saves.

 

"It was good to come from behind, which our guys did," said McCrimmon, whose team plays its home opener Saturday against the Warriors (Westman Place, 7:30 p.m.). "And I thought guys paid a price to win, which you need to do on the road, so it was a good result, good first game."

 

ONE-TIMERS: Brandon was 0-for-4 on the power play, while Moose Jaw was 1-for-3 … Pankewicz finished the night +5, with one assist … Wheat Kings D Dominic Thom earned an assist in his WHL debut, springing Cooper for the opening goal … Import LW Rihards Bukarts and 15-year-old D Kale Clague also played their first WHL games for Brandon … Hunter was injured in the first period, hitting the boards hard when Warriors C Alexander Chirva ducked an attempted hit … In addition to Pulock, who has played two pre-season games with the Islanders, the Wheat Kings played without D Nick Walters (knuckle, indefinite), D Taylor Green (upper body, two weeks), D Riley Van Horne, LW Jesse Gabrielle, C Duncan Campbell, LW Tyler Coulter and LW Brett Kitt … Warriors star D Morgan Rielly is still skating with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs.

» rhenders@brandonsun.com

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