As of now, the Brandon Wheat Kings’ 24-40-4-4 record last season is meaningless.
Same for their 3-1 mark in this year’s Western Hockey League pre-season.
With a new campaign beginning tonight, the only relevant numbers for the Wheat Kings are the big ones on the scoreboard and the digits that will fill the ‘win’ and ‘loss’ columns of the standings.
"We didn’t have the season we wanted last year," said veteran defenceman Eric Roy, who had his first practice with the Wheat Kings on Thursday after being sent back by the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames a day earlier. "It’s a fresh start now for us. The off-season was long but I think we’ve got a lot to prove this season and we’re really looking forward to the start."
There is plenty different about this season’s Wheat Kings with 11 first-year players still on the roster and owner/general manager Kelly McCrimmon stepping back behind the bench as the head coach for the first time in three seasons after relieving former coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk of his duties over the summer.
When the Wheat Kings visit the Moose Jaw Warriors tonight (7:40 p.m., CKLQ pre-game show) to open a Friday-Saturday home-and-home series, there will be at least six rookies in Brandon lineup — a list that could include 15-year-old defenceman Kale Clague. The only player from this year’s WHL bantam draft class still on an active roster, Clague has been given an extended look by the Wheat Kings due to injuries on their blue-line and the absence of captain Ryan Pulock, who is still in camp with the NHL’s New York Islanders, and the youngster is excited to get a taste of regular-season action.
"Coming in, I obviously never thought I was going to be around this long," said Clague, who produced two goals and three assists in four pre-season games but isn’t old enough to be a WHL regular and will return home shortly to play for the Alberta AAA Midget Hockey League’s Lloydminster Bobcats.
"Getting the opportunity to start the season with the team and stuff like that it’s a pretty cool experience, being this young. It’s just going to show what it takes to play in the regular season, so I get a little experience this year and then come back knowing what’s going to happen."
In addition to Pulock, the Wheat Kings will play without defencemen Nick Walters (knuckle, indefinite) and Taylor Green (upper body, two weeks). On a more positive note, Roy got clearance on Tuesday to play after being bothered by an abdominal strain with the Flames.
Despite being limited during his first pro camp, the fifth-round NHL draft pick said he picked up things that he believes will help with his season in Brandon.
"Just consistency," Roy replied when asked what he learned. "I watched a couple pre-season games, getting hard back to the pucks (is important), just working hard every day and learning from the older guys, the veterans. (Flames defenceman) Mark Giordano really taught me well and I just learned from them."
While Roy was going to school in the Flames’ camp, the rest of the Wheat Kings were getting a crash course in the WHL, and McCrimmon is happy with the work they’ve put in, although he said there’s lots left in front of them.
"I think you need to have people on the same page in terms of what you’re trying to do both offensively and defensively, so we’ve spent a lot of time on that," said McCrimmon, who has a 330-260-42 record as the Wheat Kings’ head coach. "We’re trying to play the game at a high pace, which is how games are played by the good teams in our league, so we’ve spent a lot of time on those types of things. We’ve done a lot of work on the defensive side of the game this week because we really feel that that’s going to be important for us, but there’s still things that we haven’t spent enough time on. There’s things that we spent a lot of time on that we still need to continue to work on. So for three weeks of practice we feel that we’re ready to get started and go from there."
ONE-TIMERS: The Warriors are also missing a star blue-liner as Morgan Rielly is still with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs … Brandon RW Richard Nejezchleb left practice early on Thursday with what appeared to be an ankle injury … As of Thursday at 5 p.m., about 3,100 tickets had been sold for Saturday’s home opener … A tailgate party will begin at the Keystone Centre’s Convention Hall Saturday at 4 p.m., with the game to start at 7:30 … Brandon Sun sales and marketing director Glen Parker, who has stepped aside from his role as Hockey Brandon president after 17 years, will drop the puck for Saturday’s ceremonial faceoff. Award-winning Canadian country music recording artist Jess Moskaluke will sing the national anthem.
WHEAT KINGS ROSTER
Pos. Height Weight Age
Curtis Honey G 6-0 174 19
r-Jordan Papirny G 6-0 170 17
Pos. Height Weight Age
x-Kale Clague RD 5-11 181 15
Taylor Green LD 6-7 224 18
Rene Hunter RD 6-1 208 20
Kord Pankewicz LD 5-11 202 17
n-Ryan Pulock RD 6-1 218 19
Eric Roy LD 6-3 195 19
r-Dominic Thom LD 6-2 186 17
r-Riley Van Horne LD 6-1 175 17
Nick Walters LD 6-2 202 19
Colton Waltz LD 6-1 187 18
Pos. Height Weight Age
ir-Rihards Bukarts LW 5-9 189 18
r-Duncan Campbell C 6-3 187 17
Taylor Cooper LW 6-0 186 18
r-Tyler Coulter LW 5-11 206 17
r-Jesse Gabrielle LW 5-11 201 16
Jayce Hawryluk C 5-10 190 17
r-Brett Kitt LW 6-1 192 17
r-Ryley Lindgren C 5-11 183 17
Quintin Lisoway C 5-10 190 18
Tim McGauley C 6-0 182 18
Jens Meilleur RW 6-1 197 20
i-Richard Nejezchleb RW 6-2 210 19
Jack Palmer RW 6-1 183 18
John Quenneville C 6-1 186 17
Chad Robinson C 5-11 182 20
r-Braylon Shmyr LW 5-8 156 16
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<BI>r<B> — rookie; <Bf$o($)>x<B> — 15-year-old ineligible to play full-time this season.