Some views, news and notes this week, with the WHL playoffs just two weeks away:
• The Brandon Wheat Kings are advertising free tickets to the first two home playoff games this year for anyone purchasing season tickets for the 2014-15 season — a great idea, provided they actually make the playoffs, that is. With just five games left in the regular season, that is far from certain. The seventh-place Wheat Kings (31-27-6-3) sit just two points up on the Red Deer Rebels, with the ninth-place Prince Albert Raiders only four points back with a game in hand and a huge home date with the Wheat Kings on Saturday night. This battle is far from over.
• If the Wheat Kings do make the post-season party, the timing of this year’s Royal Manitoba Winter Fair — March 31 to April 5 — will allow Brandon to play its first two home games at Westman Place for the first time in four years. However, a potential third playoff game would have to be played elsewhere, and not in Winnipeg either with the MTS Centre unavailable during Juno Awards week, forcing Brandon to go to another WHL rink. The Warriors and Blades are out of the post-season picture, but there could very well be playoff hockey there after all this season.
• A big blow for the Brandon University Bobcats women’s basketball program this week with the announcement that league all-star Cassie Cooke — who led the country in scoring this season with 23.6 points per game — will not return next year. Cooke, a good candidate to be named a CIS all-Canadian, was one of the big reasons for the turnaround in the Bobcats’ program to a 6-16 record — their best in 30 years. BU coach Novell Thomas has some serious recruiting to do to fill those sizeable shoes.
• Congratulations to Brandonite Tanner Jago after the 19-year-old defenceman verbally committed to play NCAA Division I hockey on scholarship for the Bentley University Falcons in 2015-16. The former Manitoba Junior Hockey League rookie of the year and graduate of the Brandon Midget AAA Wheat Kings is currently playing Junior A hockey in North Dakota for the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League.
• Speaking of the Midget Wheaties, head coach Ken Schneider’s team is facing playoff elimination tonight in Beausejour, down 2-1 to the Eastman Selects in the best-of-five Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League semifinals. Dominant in the regular season with a first-place 39-3-2 record — finishing 25 points ahead of fourth-place Selects (24-13-7) — the Wheat Kings have been hurt by the loss of league scoring leader and captain Duncan Campbell, a Brandon WHL prospect who was hurt in the series opener. With their season on the line, Schneider is hoping to get Campbell back for tonight’s elimination game.
• The Southwest Bantam Cougars are holding their second annual “Do It For Don” fundraising game in Killarney on Saturday night in support of former Wheat Kings captain Don Dietrich, the Cougars’ director of player personnel, who is battling Parkinson’s disease. Dietrich, a Deloraine native and Manitoba Hockey Hall of Famer who spent 10 years in the pro ranks that included a short stint in the NHL, is one of the good guys in the game and has been involved in minor hockey for decades.
All proceeds from Saturday’s game — slated for 8 p.m. at Killarney’s Shamrock Centre — will go to the Parkinson’s Society of Canada.
• It will also be a big night in Virden on Saturday when the Oil Capitals host their first-ever Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoff game at Tundra Oil and Gas Place at 7:30 p.m. The Oil Capitals clash with the Swan Valley Stampeders to open the best-of-seven quarter-final, the club’s first post-season action after missing the playoffs in Virden’s inaugural season in the MJHL in 2012-13.
• Former Wheat Kings goaltender Jacob DeSerres and ex-Brandon assistant coach Mark Howell will lead the Calgary Dinos into the Canada West men’s hockey final versus the Alberta Golden Bears, with the best-of-three series starting tonight in Edmonton. Alberta (25-2-1) Calgary (21-4-3) finished 1-2 in the CWUAA standings and are ranked No.1 and No.3 in the country, respectively, but only the series winner will advance to the six-team CIS University Cup in Saskatoon from March 20-23.