Some news and views as we count down the days until the jolly old guy in the red suit with the reindeer arrives:
• Off to an impressive league-leading 25-2 start, the Brandon Midget AAA Wheat Kings will be gunning for a 17th straight victory tonight when they face the Yellowhead Chiefs at the Sportsplex. The AAA Wheaties’ 16 straight victories has beaten the mark of 15 in a row that Brandon won under former coach Tom Skinner to start to the 1991-92 season in a year when they were an impressive 22-0-1 at one point and finished the season 31-3-2. With the WHL’s Wheat Kings idle, Friday is a good opportunity to check out this year’s Midget AAA squad, which features five of the league’s top six scorers in Duncan Campbell (25-33-58), Jordy Stallard (15-32-47), Tanner Kaspick (18-23-41), Josh Kobelka (11-23-34) and James Shearer (9-25-34).
• After some stumbles in the first half of the WHL season — including a four-game skid on the U.S. Division road trip — coach/GM Kelly McCrimmon got his Brandon Wheat Kings turned around down the stretch, with a solid 5-1-2-0 record to move into a tie for sixth place in the Eastern Conference at 18-14-3-0. Has McCrimmon seen enough progress to add a piece or two to the puzzle at the WHL’s Jan. 10 trade deadline (1 p.m. Central), does he stand pat, or does he play ‘let’s make a deal’ with a couple of his veteran players to add to his core of young talent that has quickly become the heart — and future — of this team?
• Four former Wheat Kings are posting some solid stats in the pro ranks. Former WHL player of the year Eric Fehr has been called upon to shoot first in each of the past five shootouts for the Washington Capitals and has scored every time, while Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding — currently out of the lineup while dealing with his multiple sclerosis — leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.51) and shutouts (3), and is second in save percentage (.939) and wins (18). Meanwhile, Brandonite Mike Ferland and former Wheat King captain Mark Stone are in the AHL making a strong case for NHL call-ups. Ferland has fired six goals and amassed 18 points in his last 14 games for the Abbotsford Heat, while Stone has scored four goals and notched nine points in his last eight games for the Binghamton Senators.
• It’s interesting to note that Brandon boasts two of the top university players in the country at the midway point of the season. Brandonite Lisa Barclay of the UBC Thunderbirds leads all CIS women’s volleyball players in kills (185) and kills per set (4.30) in another all-Canadian performance so far this year. Meanwhile, American import Cassie Cooke has helped revive the Brandon University Bobcats women’s basketball program by leading the nation in scoring with 28.2 points per game as she bids for her second all-Canadian nod.
• Perspective is everything when it comes to the BU Bobcats basketball teams. While they both sport 2-8 records at the Christmas break, 2-8 is something to celebrate for the women’s team after finally snapping a 73-game losing skid in the Canada West conference. However, for the once powerhouse Bobcats men’s basketball team, a 2-8 record has to be a considered a big disappointment for a veteran-laden team that had hoped to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. Of course, with a brutally tough first-half schedule behind them, there is an opportunity for head coach Gil Cheung’s men’s team to turn it around and make a playoff push in the second half.
• Things are rosier on the volleyball court at BU as the Bobcats women’s team is ranked second in the country with an impressive 9-3 record at the break. Head coach Lee Carter’s talented squad is playing like a playoff contender, although facing top-ranked defending national champion UBC out in Vancouver in January will provide a particularly tough test. On the men’s side, coach Grant Wilson’s fifth-ranked Bobcats (7-5) are in the playoff mix as well, but face a challenging second-half schedule in the always-tough CWUAA.
• With only 48 days until the start of the 2014 Winter Games in Russia, the Olympic dream is still alive for four Westman athletes. Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh and Russell’s Jon Montgomery — the 2010 Olympic gold medallist — still have a shot at making Canada’s skeleton team, although they will most likely need to reach the medal podium in their final four races on the Intercontinental Cup tour before the Jan. 19 deadline in order to slide into the third men’s and women’s spots in Sochi. Meanwhile, Virden’s pairs figure skaters Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers can clinch a trip to the Olympics if they can match their 2013 bronze-medal performance at the 2014 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa from Jan. 9-15. They will be looking to join Olympic-bound former Brandon resident Jill Officer — second on Jennifer Jones’ Winnipeg-based women’s curling team — who lived in the Wheat City from 2001 to 2007.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 20, 2013