From Brandonite Cassie Hawrysh to the Brandon Wheat Kings, we’re all over the map today with some news, notes and quotes:
• How disastrous have the Wheat Kings’ specialty teams been this year? Brandon is now dead last in the WHL in both power play (14.0 per cent) and penalty killing (70.6 per cent). At this pace, they will be the first WHL team to finish worst in both categories since ... well, the Wheat Kings back in 2005-06. That season — rebuilding after losing the likes of Eric Fehr, Ryan Stone, Tim Konsorada, Lance Monych, Steven Later and Jakub Sindel from their run to the 2005 WHL final — Brandon’s power play clicked only 11.4 per cent of the time, while their penalty-killing percentage was 78.0.
However, unlike this year’s team — currently last in the Eastern Conference with an 18-30-2-2 record — the Wheat Kings stayed in the hunt by grinding out a 30-32-6-4 sixth-place record in the conference to make the 2006 playoffs under coach Kelly McCrimmon.
Whether it’s players simply not executing or coaches not implementing successful power-play and penalty-killing systems that make the most of their players’ strengths, there is plenty of blame to go around. But clearly, specialty team struggles, not to mention getting outshot on a regular basis, are a big reason why the Wheat Kings have fallen 13 points out of playoff position with only 20 games remaining and are on pace to miss the post-season for the first time in 13 years.
• While this year looks like a bust, the Wheat Kings’ protected list is packed with prospects, including five of the top 17 scorers — all 16-year-old forwards — in the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League this season. Brandonite Tyler Coulter sits third overall with 57 points in 39 games — including a league-leading 32 goals — while Elkhorn’s Taylor Sanheim (26 goals, 51 points) is eighth, Winnipegger Ryley Lindgren (24 goals, 48 points) is ninth, Brandon’s Brett Kitt (22 goals, 47 points) is 11th and Winnipegger Jordan Bochinski (21 goals, 39 points) is 17th.
• Over in Switzerland, Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh is in 11th place entering today’s final two runs at the world women’s skeleton championship. The 28-year-old Neelin graduate has had a remarkable rookie season on the World Cup tour and was ranked ninth in the world entering this week’s championship. With a couple strong runs today, Hawrysh could crack the top 10 in her first trip to worlds as she continues to chase a spot in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"Eleventh heading into (Friday) is great," Hawrysh said in a message from overseas. "I will get to see the first 10 sleds go down and maybe even clear some of that early morning frost off the track. Certainly an opportunity to move up even more places."
Meanwhile, Russell’s Jon Montgomery begins his first of two days of racing in the men’s world championship today in Switzerland. The 33-year-old reigning Olympic gold medallist is ranked 10th in the world entering today’s runs.
• It’s interesting that Manitoba men’s curling champion Rob Fowler of Brandon finished third at the Brier last year but is only seeded third in the province for this year’s Safeway Championship that opens Wednesday in Neepawa. Fowler is ranked behind top seed Jeff Stoughton — a nine-time provincial champion, three-time Brier winner and two-time world champion — and former Brandonite Mike McEwen — who is ranked fourth on the World Curling Tour money list and has made it to each of the past three provincial finals.
• Binscarth’s Cody McLeod punched his ticket into the Colorado Avalanche record book this week when he scrapped with Dale Weise of the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night for the 73rd fighting major of his NHL career. The tussle broke the franchise record previously set by former Wheat Kings tough guy Jeff Odgers.
• Brandon’s Ryan White of the Montreal Canadiens had the quote of the week Wednesday. The 24-year-old took costly roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that resulted in back-to-back goals on the four-minute power play as the Ottawa Senators skated to a 5-1 victory. "I was complaining … but I have to learn to shut up and just go to the box," White told reporters after the game. On the plus side, White has one goal in six games and has helped give the Habs a physical presence with a pair of scraps among his 42 penalty minutes.
• Brandonite Amanda Thornborough, 22, is one of 50 of Canada’s top rugby players now living and training full-time at the Centre of Excellence in Langford, B.C. Thornborough, who helped lead St. FX to the national university women’s title in 2012, is one of 21 carded athletes who receive funding to play for the national women’s sevens team that is preparing long-term for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
• Brandon’s Michael van den Ham, 20, races in the Cyclo-cross World Championships this weekend in Louisville, Ky.
• Brandonite Kurtis Cullen, 20, ranked ninth in the country, competes in Racquetball Canada’s national team selection event today and tomorrow in Brossard, Que.
• And finally, tonight in Souris, a fan will have a chance to shoot for $10,000 during the second intermission of the Tiger Hills Hockey League game between the league-leading Elks and the Hartney Blues. Game time is 8 p.m.