From the Wheat Kings to the worlds, it’s all about Wheat City connections this week:
• We are just days away from what promises to be an extremely competitive camp for the Brandon Wheat Kings. With potentially 18 players back, roster spots will be at a premium this year, but you can certainly pencil into the lineup 16-year-old blue-chip prospects Nolan Patrick, Kale Clague and Brandonite Tanner Kaspick — three of the top 25 picks in the 2013 WHL bantam draft.
As for some of the other top talent in camp, no less than six Wheat Kings — forwards John Quenneville, Peter Quenneville, Jayce Hawryluk and Richard Nejezchleb, defenceman Eric Roy and goaltender Jordan Papirny — will go to NHL training camps this fall, along with graduating captain Ryan Pulock, who is already signed and will play in the New York Islanders system this season. Wheat King rookie camp on-ice sessions begin Wednesday at Westman Place, with main camp opening next Friday.
• It was great to see Brandonite Amanda Thornborough step up to the podium to accept her silver medal at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Paris on Sunday.
While Canada’s impressive run fell short in a 21-9 loss to England, it was the best showing ever for our national women’s team.
A product of the Vincent Massey Vikings and Brandon Barbarians programs, Thornborough played sparingly in the tournament, but having just turned 24, she was one of the youngest players on the Canadian roster and earned invaluable experience on the world stage. Having now donned Canada’s colours with both the national 15s and sevens squads, Thornborough may next have a chance to become an Olympian when sevens rugby makes its debut in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games.
• Speaking of world championships, Westman players will step into the international spotlight again on the volleyball court over the next few weeks. Setter Dustin Schneider — a Brandon Vincent Massey product — and left side Toon Van Lankvelt — who graduated from Neelin — are expected to play for Canada in the world men’s championship in Poland from Aug. 30 to Sept. 21.
Meanwhile, Lisa Barclay — the pride of Crocus Plains — and Tabi Love — who was born in Brandon and raised in Dauphin — are expected to suit up for Canada in the women’s world championship in Italy from Sept. 23 to Oct. 12.
•Some Brandon folks were disappointed to learn that former Wheat King fan favourite Jordin Tootoo turned down a contract offer from the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets last week, according to Jets beat writer Ken Wiebe.
However, the Jets’ offer was apparently a two-way contract — paying a player significantly less if he plays in the minors — which would have been tough to swallow for Tootoo after earning $1.9 million on a one-way deal with the Detroit Red Wings last season. The 31-year-old Tootoo remains an unrestricted free agent after Detroit bought out the final year of his contract this summer.
• Tootoo is one of a handful of players with local links who remain unsigned. Defenceman Aaron Rome of Nesbitt is an unrestricted NHL free agent after being bought out by the Dallas Stars and may wind up heading overseas, while Brandonite Carson McMillan is also an unrestricted free agent after spending the past five seasons in the Minnesota Wild organization, suiting up in one NHL game last season. Another free agent is former Wheat King defenceman Nolan Yonkman, who spent last season in the Anaheim Ducks organization, including playing a pair of NHL games.
• As for the Jets, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff — a former Brandon blue-liner — still hasn’t waded into the NHL free agent pool to land a true impact player. While they have added a couple of workmanlike players, off-season signings like Chris Thorburn, Mathieu Perreault, John Albert, Michael Hutchinson, Carl Klingberg, Patrice Cormier, Eric O’Dell, Ben Chiarot, Keaton Ellerby, Michael Frolik, Matt Halischuk, T.J. Galiardi and Julien Brouillette don’t exactly excite the masses.
On the plus side, it will be easier for fans in the Wheat City to watch the Jets this season, with 60 regular-season games slated to be broadcast on the new TSN3 channel — which should be part of most basic cable packages — and the other 22 Jets games on CBC, Rogers Sportsnet or City TV. Former NHLer Shane Hnidy of Neepawa will be part of the Jets broadcast team on TSN3. The five new TSN channels debut Monday.