Brandon’s arenas will be flooded with scouts this weekend, but the coach of the Bantam AAA Wheat Kings said that’s not something his team will be concerned about.
The Wheat Kings will enjoy the luxury of home ice at the Hockey Manitoba Bantam AAA Showcase, being held in conjunction with the second week of the Brandon Tournament of Champions.
The Showcase events give top bantam players in the province exposure to one another and to junior hockey scouts. Kyle Prystupa of Hockey Manitoba estimates there could be 40-50 Western Hockey League scouts here plus reps from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, but Wheat Kings head coach Dennis McNish said with his squad playing regularly in the Winnipeg AAA Bantam Hockey League, there is no special emphasis on that side of the tournament for his players.
"We don’t put any weight on ourselves being scouted at all," said McNish, whose team is 11-17-2 in the Winnipeg league, but 8-3 since the Christmas break. "We play in a AAA Bantam league, the kids have all been seen numerous times by tons of scouts and being scouted is no different from what we’ve been used to all year and that should be the same for every team coming.
"We’re just going to approach every game like we would a regular-season game where we’re going to try and do our best and improve and win the game at the same time."
The festivities start today in the Bantam AA category — the final competition that falls under the Tournament of Champions banner — with Brandon facing the Virden Oil Kings at the Sportsplex at 10 a.m. The Showcase begins with a single girls’ Bantam AAA game today as Westman South faces Yellowhead at Optimist Arena at 7 p.m. The boys’ Bantam AAA Showcase follows on Friday with the Wheat Kings and Southwest Cougars first up at the Optimist Arena at 11 a.m.
Brandon scoring leader Connor Gutenberg is only a first-year bantam and not old enough to be chosen in the junior drafts until next year, but Wheat Kings Chipper Osiname and Ty Lewis are talented forwards who should catch scouts’ eyes. Morgan Geekie of the Yellowhead Chiefs and Jermaine Loewen of the Interlake Warriors are among the Winnipeg league scoring leaders and will draw interest as well.
The event won’t include some of the province’s top draft prospects with no Winnipeg teams competing and bantam-aged snipers like Tanner Kaspick of Brandon and Brett Howden of Oakbank already playing midget hockey, but there will be some out-of-province representation in the form of a Northwestern Ontario team plus Notre Dame out of Saskatchewan and Calgary’s Edge Hockey Academy.
"We’ve seen the Northwestern Ontario team; they were out at the last Showcase and they fit right in with the calibre of the rural teams in the province here," McNish said. "I think the two teams from out west … are going to be real strong teams and every team that gets a chance to play them is going to have a real challenge on their hands. I hope we do get to play against one of those teams for sure, because it’s always best to compete against the best, so hopefully we get that opportunity."
The Bantam AA event will be the first to wrap up, with the final set for Saturday at noon at Westman Place. The girls’ Showcase will conclude with an all-star game on Sunday at Westman Place at 3 p.m., with the boys’ Showcase holding an all-star game Sunday at 7:15 p.m., also at Westman, followed by a full slate of "flex scheduling" games on Monday, with the matchups to be set on Sunday night.