Brandonite Tyler Coulter takes to the ice during Wheat Kings practice on Tuesday afternoon at Westman Place. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
Brandonite Brett Kitt wheels around the ice during Wheat Kings practice on Tuesday afternoon at Westman Place. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
The home opener is a special night for any hockey player, but for Brett Kitt the Brandon Wheat Kings’ Westman Place season debut on Saturday was the realization of a dream that began long before he was ever on the Western Hockey League club’s radar.
"It was crazy," the 17-year-old Brandonite recalled, his eyes lighting up. "I can’t even explain it. I’ve come to the home opener for the past, I don’t even know how many years, 10 years, and I’ve always dreamt ever since I was a little kid that I can be in the home opener and on Saturday night I got lucky enough to be able to suit up. It was insane."
Kitt was one of three 17-year-old Brandon rookies on the Wheat Kings’ roster to start the WHL season, joining Tyler Coulter and Duncan Campbell, who has since been sent back to the Midget AAA Wheat Kings for a third year with the club.
While Campbell was a recent arrival to the WHL club, joining the Wheat Kings this month after a tryout with the Red Deer Rebels, Coulter and Kitt spent their entire summer training together with the singular goal of cracking the Brandon roster. Coulter said before the camp he believed both of them had a good shot to make the team and so far he’s been right.
"I feel like we’re in a good spot right now," Coulter said. "We’re both just mixing our way through the lineup and I think that’s what we need to do. We’re both just showing Kelly (McCrimmon, the team’s head coach and general manager) what we have and trying to make him keep us here."
Staying with the Wheat Kings for the long run is still going to take some work. The club is down to 15 forwards and although there is no rush to make a move, at some point that number will likely be pared to 14. Coulter didn’t play in the season-opening sweep of the Moose Jaw Warriors, but he’s determined to take advantage of his opportunity when it comes.
"I’m just working hard in practice every day, coming to the rink and doing my best and just waiting for my chance," said Coulter, who played three regular-season games with the WHL club last season.
The 6-foot-1, 192-pound Kitt was chosen by the Wheat Kings in the fifth round of the 2011 WHL bantam draft, while the 5-foot-11, 206-pound Coulter was later protected by Brandon as a list player. Both had standout seasons with the Midget AAA Wheat Kings last year, with Coulter finishing fifth in the league with 61 points, while Kitt was 11th with 51.
Although there are some similarities, McCrimmon said Kitt and Coulter bring some different attributes to the table.
"I think both players are very committed," McCrimmon said. "Both have trained real hard to put themselves in position to play in the league this year. I think both have real good size, both strong kids. Brett, I think, has really shown good bursts of speed and I think has had a real good camp and pre-season. Tyler is a guy that thinks the game real well and he’s strong on the puck, he’s good on the cycle, those types of things. That’s probably they strength of his game, but they’re both good, young players."
McCrimmon said it’s vital that both players, along with the rest of their teammates, focus on making the most of their ice and training times to learn as much as they can and adapt to the WHL game. That’s something that Kitt hopes to do after getting his nerves under control in his debut.
"Right now I’m just going to play my best and hopefully I’m still here for the rest of the year," he said. "For now I’ve just got to keep working on the little things. I played nervous hockey in the fist game. Now that that’s over with, I can go out there and I can get a fresh start maybe next game or maybe go out and get my first goal or something, but get on the right track because I’m excited."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 25, 2013