Some news, notes and quotes as the Brandon Wheat Kings prepare for the fur to fly in the annual Teddy Bear Toss tonight at Westman Place:
• Captain Ryan Pulock may not be the magic solution to make all of the Wheat Kings’ problems disappear.
After all, there are NHL defencemen who couldn’t singlehandedly solve the Wheat Kings’ league-worst penalty killing and dismal team defence on a club that has given up the most goals against and the second-most shots against in the WHL this season.
But the struggling 10-16-2-2 Wheat Kings — losers of 10 of their last 11 games and 0-5-0-1 without Pulock in the lineup — will receive a much-needed boost when the multi-talented 18-year-old defenceman returns from a six-game absence after taking a puck to the face. A point-a-game player and the team’s plus/minus leader (+14), Pulock received full medical clearance Wednesday to return to the lineup — albeit with a full faceshield while his injuries heal — and will help stabilize what has become a shaky defence.
The expected return of forward Jens Meilleur should also help a team that will be up against it tonight versus Spokane (8-1-1 in the last 10 games) and Saturday versus red-hot Red Deer (9-1-0).
• The WHL may have completely bungled its public relations strategy by initially not making anyone available to talk about it, but the league certainly made the right call when it threw the book at the Portland Winterhawks last week for recruiting violations.
I’ve found it interesting listening to a few national media pundits — some of whom rarely cover the league — describe the sanctions as excessive. Yes, the penalties were huge — a $200,000 fine, suspending head coach/GM Mike Johnston for the rest of the season and stripping the Winterhawks of multiple draft picks that left them without a first-round pick until 2018.
But the Winterhawks repeatedly broke clear league guidelines designed to ensure a level playing field to allow the small-market clubs like Swift Current, Prince Albert, Kootenay and even Brandon compete with the major-market clubs in Portland, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
Providing for flights for parents and cell phones for players may not be a big deal to the big-budget franchises.
But for teams like Swift Current — a club that lost roughly $800,000 on hockey operations in each of the past three seasons, according to Gregg Drinnan of the Kamloops Daily News — every penny counts. Until the league implements some sort of revenue-sharing (don’t hold your breath), limits on what teams can spend to attract players are absolutely critical to allow small-market teams to remain competitive.
• Speaking of public relations, the Brandon University athletics department needs to understand that if it’s news when a player joins a Bobcats team, it’s also news when a player leaves.
BU was quick to issue a glowing news release in the summer when American imports Randy Preval and Rob McLean committed to join the Bobcats men’s volleyball program, but didn’t say a word this week when Preval, a high-flying 6-foot-6 middle from New York, informed coaches he was leaving the program.
Additionally, the Sun has learned that McLean, a 6-foot-4 left side also from NYC, has also informed interim head coach Grant Wilson that he is looking to leave the Bobcats. Both players certainly made an impact in their first semester with the Bobcats, helping the club post a superb 9-3 record in Canada West entering the Christmas break and their loss is not positive news for the club. But it is news, nonetheless.
• Speaking of the Bobcats, the BU women’s team has again struggled, going 0-10 in the first half of the season and hasn’t won a game in more than two years. While the Bobcats have recruited some promising young players, new head coach Novell Thomas never did land that impact player — American or otherwise — who could help elevate the program.
It’s also unfortunate that the previous Bobcats coaches failed so miserably at recruiting top talent right here at home, with solid 6-foot-1 sophomore post Aimee Johnston (team-leading 8.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game) the lone local player making an impact.
It’s hard to compete with NCAA schools handing out full scholarships, but in a dream world the Bobcats could have had a solid all-Brandon starting lineup with Johnston joined by second-year 6-foot-0 forward Tia Coulter (7.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the Winnipeg Wesmen), fourth-year 5-foot-10 point guard Dani DeGagne (12.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game for North Dakota State University), 5-foot-7 second-year shooting guard Josie DeGagne (10.9 points and 3.6 rebounds for Dakota College at Bottineau, N.D.) and 5-foot-7 freshmen guard Brittany Wiebe (red-shirting this year at NDSU).
• The Manitoba Senior Baseball League has come up short in its bid to host the 2014 Canadian Senior AAA baseball championship. MSBL president Richard Lochhead of Reston confirmed Thursday that the league has been informed that the tournament has been awarded to Newfoundland.
• Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh and Russell’s Jon Montgomery hit the track this morning in the fourth race on the World Cup skeleton tour. Hawrysh is ranked seventh in the world after back-to-back fourth-place finishes that were two of three qualifying placings she needs this season in order to stay in the running for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Montgomery, the 2010 Olympic champion, is ranked 11th in the world, but is still looking to earn his first qualifying times for the upcoming Olympics.