The Brandon Wheat Kings locked up a playoff spot with a pair of victories over the Regina Pats on the final weekend of the Western Hockey League's regular season and what do they get for a reward?
At least four more games against the Pats.
Peter Quenneville scored three times as the Wheat Kings came from behind to beat the Pats 6-3 on Saturday night at Westman Place, completing a sweep of their home-and-home series and locking up seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
"That was big," said captain Ryan Pulock, who added a goal and two assists and also won three team awards on Saturday, being named Brandon's most valuable player, defenceman of the year and top Manitoban. "That's a lot of momentum going into the playoffs for us, especially for this weekend there was no better way for us to finish it off. I thought we played two solid games, I thought we got better as a team and here comes the playoffs."
The Wheat Kings finished with three straight wins for a 34-29-6-3 record and a 21-point improvement from last season, when they missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. They'll face the Pats (39-26-4-3), who paced the East Division and secured the second seed for the first round of the playoffs, which will begin on Saturday, March 22 in Regina.
On Friday, Quenneville scored the tying goal with 35 seconds to play in the third period and set up Eric Roy's winner in overtime as the Wheat Kings rallied to win in Regina. One night later, Brandon had to play from behind again as Dmitry Sinitsyn and Connor Gay scored only 39 seconds apart to give the Pats an early 2-0 lead. Again, Quenneville was the key to the comeback, scoring twice to tie the game going into the first intermission.
"We kinda saw the same thing (Friday) night where we gave up three goals early and tonight was the same situation," said Quenneville, who had five goals and two assists in the final two games after missing the previous 10 contests due to injury. "They were outshooting us 10-1 at one point. … We just tried to stay calm, know that we had the confidence and we had the firepower to come back and get the lead."
The Wheat Kings also got strong play from netminder Jordan Papirny, who recovered to make 35 saves, allowing only a third-period power-play goal from Boston Leier the rest of the way.
"When you let in, like today, only two quick goals right off the bat, you just have to step back and not really look at the big picture," said Papirny, who was named Brandon's rookie of the year. "I just kind of focus on the next five minutes and the five minutes after that and keep rolling."
The Wheat Kings were all rolling in the second period, dominating the frame and scoring three times, including the first goal of 15-year-old call-up Nolan Patrick's career and Quenneville's hat-trick goal, set up by his brother John. After Leier scored for Regina in the third, Brandon veteran Jens Meilleur finished off the scoring with an empty-net goal.
The victory was the 364th win as a head coach for Kelly McCrimmon, who is also the Wheat Kings' owner and general manager, breaking the team record previously help by Bob Lowes.
"We had a big week," McCrimmon said. "We needed to play well, we needed to win and if you're going to be prepared for the playoffs, we needed to improve and play well and I think we did those things."
ONE-TIMERS: Game 2 of the best-of-seven conference quarter-final will be played on Sunday, March 23 in Regina, with Brandon's home dates yet to be announced as of Saturday night … The Wheat Kings won the season series against the Pats 5-3 … Quenneville's first WHL hat trick gave him 21 goals for the campaign, making him the seventh Brandon player to reach 20 this season … C Tim McGauley had three assists for the Wheat Kings, extending his point-scoring streak to eight games (three goals, eight assists). His older sister, Patricia, who plays hockey at Yale, sang the national anthem … Regina G Dawson MacAuley was pulled after allowing four goals on 24 shots, with former Wheat Kings prospect Tyler Fuhr making his debut as a Pat and stopping seven of eight after that … Brandon RW Jayce Hawryluk completed his four-game suspension on Saturday, while D Kord Pankewicz, LW Brett Kitt and LW Braylon Shmyr were the Wheat Kings' other scratches … Injuries kept a number of key players out of the Regina lineup, including RW Dyson Stevenson, who led the team in goals, G Daniel Wapple, D Kyle Burroughs and D Colby Williams.
WHEAT KING AWARD WINNERS
Meighen Haddad Most Valuable Player — Ryan Pulock
Brandon Sun Scoring Champion Trophy — Jayce Hawryluk
Brad McCrimmon Memorial Trophy (top defenceman) — Pulock
MNP Rookie of the Year — Jordan Papirny
Art Marshall Top Graduating 20-year-old Player — Rene Hunter
Manitoba Hydro Turk Broda Trophy (top Manitoba-born player) — Pulock
Canad Inns Hardest Working Player — Hawryluk
Coca-Cola Rob Stouffer Most Inspirational Player — Quintin Lisoway
Dennis Truscott UCT Most Improved Player — John Quenneville
Precision Toyota Unsung Hero — Colton Waltz
Keystone Centre John Scott Kent Most Sportsmanlike Player — Tim McGauley
Manitoba Blue Cross 3-star Award — Richard Nejezchleb
Shoppers Drug Mart Fans Choice Award — Jesse Gabrielle
Maggie Janz Scholastic Player of the Year — Ryley Lindgren
McDonald's Frank King Trophy (most community-minded player) — Chad Robinson