Ty Lewis leads the new additions for the Midget AAA Wheaties. (FILE PHOTO)
The Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League has a new look this season and so do the Brandon Wheat Kings.
The league opened the season last night with a mild makeover. The two-division system has been done away with in favour of having all 12 teams grouped together to compete for eight post-season berths, down from 12 last season.
Meanwhile, the Wheat Kings will try to keep their tradition of being perennially competitive intact with a different makeup than the squad that went 32-10-2 last season, topping the West Division before advancing to the league semifinals. Gone are power forwards like Tyler Coulter and Brett Kitt, who jumped to the Western Hockey League’s Wheat Kings, and in their place is a group head coach Ken Schneider believes will be able to pressure opposing defences with speed.
"You have to adjust and adapt your game based on the personnel that we have and I think this year we look a little different up front," said Schneider, who begins his fourth season as head coach on Friday when the Wheat Kings visit the Central Plains Capitals in Portage la Prairie. "I think we’re a smaller team up front than we were in the past year or two, but I think we have a skilled, fast front end so we’re going to have to take advantage of that. Our transition game is now where I think we can take advantage of that speed and skill."
While the Wheat Kings turned over half their roster, with 10 returning players, they’re by no means a young team. Ty Lewis is the only player coming up from bantam, although veteran Tanner Kaspick is also just 15, having played up an age group last season.
Rather than stocking the lineup with youngsters, Schneider has added three players from other Midget AAA programs — forward Jordan McCausland (Southwest Cougars) and defencemen Mitch Lyall (Southwest) and Zach Whitecloud (Central Plains) — plus a number of 16- and 17-year-olds from the high school ranks. Schneider believes 17-year-olds like forward Reid Hunter, defenceman Troy Heywood and goalie Reid Stallard, all Vincent Massey high school standouts who tried out for the Midget Wheat Kings the past two seasons, have something to offer on the ice and in the dressing room.
"Even though those guys didn’t play here a year ago, I think they still have a role to play in terms of calming influence in the dressing room," Schneider said. "And that’s important when you’re working with 15-, 16- and 17 year-olds."
Still, the Wheat Kings will rely heavily on the returning core of players like Kaspick and Duncan Campbell, the top returning scorers with 38 points apiece last season, as well as blue-liner James Shearer and goalie Tyler Gutenberg.
"It gives us a little bit of depth in terms of each position and some experience, which we’ll rely on our veteran players to share with the new guys that are in camp," Schneider said.
"It may be a little bit hard to predict where we’re going to be at, but I’m honestly pretty excited about the upcoming season," he continued. "We maybe managed to get back a couple of guys that I thought we might not get back (from junior teams) and so we’re coming back with 10 veteran players and the likes of Ty Lewis and so on coming in. I’m pretty excited about the group of kids that we get to work with."
Brandon’s home opener is slated for Sunday when they face the Southwest Cougars at the Sportsplex at 1:30 p.m.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 3, 2013