Jordy Stallard is the leading scorer for the Brandon A & W Wheat Kings, who will try to claim the provincial rural Bantam AAA title this weekend in Morden. (FILE PHOTO)
The Brandon A & W Wheat Kings had a good season in Division 1 of the Winnipeg AAA Bantam Hockey League, but that’s not the season that matters most to the team.
All season, Brandon, which finished second in the eight-team league with an 18-9-2-1 record, has been focused on the provincial rural Bantam AAA championship. The Wheat Kings start their quest for that title today in Morden.
"This is our season," Wheat Kings head coach Chris Johnston said. "Now it’s for real. If we lose these, we won’t play again. I think we’re up for the challenge. We have to get some breaks and good goaltending and hopefully we’ll be there in the end."
Johnston knows it could be a long weekend for his team.
Brandon opens the preliminary round in Pool B with games against the Eastman Selects and NorMan Wolves today and he says neither of those games will be easy wins.
"The bottom line is we have to work hard," he said. "NorMan, we’re not overlooking them. They’ll come and they’re going to work. Eastman is strong and physical. We played them at the showcase and they pounded us to the ground but we fought back and won 3-0. I feel if we work hard, then we’ll be there at the end because we are fairly skilled. That and our work ethic will come across and hopefully get us first place."
The Yellowhead Chiefs and Southwest Cougars are also at provincials. Yellowhead is in Pool A, while Southwest is in Pool C.
A first place finish in their group won’t guarantee the Wheat Kings an appearance in a semifinal. The two pool winners with the best goals for/against ratios get a bye to Sunday’s semifinal. The third group winner will play in a quarter-final.
That means Brandon will need to play solid defence, get good goaltending from Tyson Verhelst — who led the Winnipeg league with a 2.04 goals-against average — and lots of goals. Jordy Stallard led Brandon with 10 goals and 37 points in 30 games this season.
Johnston says it will be a challenge to win the group and advance to the final, but he’s confident in his players.
"It’s an uphill battle for anybody," he said. "This year we did finish well in the AAA league in Winnipeg, but we’re not guaranteed to win. If we work hard and play with what we’ve done all year and use our skill, goaltending and defence, then we should be there right at the end. If it doesn’t happen, as long as we worked hard then the sun will still shine at the end of the day."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 16, 2012