New Brandon Wheat Kings centre Nick Buonassisi fires a puck in practice on Tuesday at Westman Place. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Wheat Kings forward Jayce Hawryluk skated in a full practice on Tuesday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Only two games into the Western Hockey League season, Nick Buonassisi appears to be well worth the fifth-round bantam draft pick the Brandon Wheat Kings gave up to get him.
The 20-year-old from Coquitlam B.C., was acquired from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in August to add experience and scoring punch to a young Brandon forward corps. So far, he’s done just that.
Centring the second line between Jens Meilleur and Richard Nejezchleb, Buonassisi had two power-play assists in a season-opening 3-2 victory over the Regina Pats on Friday at Westman Place, then scored his first goal as a Wheat King the following night as Brandon won 7-4 in Regina to sweep the home-and-home series.
"It’s gone really well so far," Buonassisi said Tuesday after the Wheat Kings practised in preparation for tonight’s home game against the Saskatoon Blades. "Everyone’s treated me with a lot of respect here and I fit in, I think, pretty easily because the guys are easy to get along with. And a 2-0 start, you can’t complain about that."
The Wheat Kings are counting on Buonassisi for more than just offence. His 272 career regular-season games in the Western Hockey League are 67 more than the closest player on the roster (defenceman Ryley Miller), and he sees time on the penalty-killing unit as well.
"I think he’s going to be a big asset for us," Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said. "He’s going to be able to play both specialty teams and play five-on-five. He’s an experienced Western Hockey League player that knows what’s happening, knows what it’s all about, and we’ve just got to make sure we get him comfortable and certain how he’s supposed to play."
The Wheat Kings face a new challenge tonight with the arrival of the Blades, the host team for the 2013 Memorial Cup, and Buonassisi said it will be a good game to chart Brandon’s progress so far.
"(The Blades are) probably the team to beat in the Eastern Conference and, hosting the Mem Cup, you know they’re going to have a really good team this year," said Buonassisi, who was the Hurricanes’ leading scorer against the Blades last season, with three goals and an assist in four games. "If we can pull out a win here, then we know we’re on the right track. It’s definitely going to be a good measuring stick."
HAWRYLUK CLEARED: Wheat Kings rookie forward Jayce Hawryluk, who has not played since suffering a concussion during the team’s camp-ending intrasquad game, practised without any restrictions on Tuesday.
It’s not known when Hawryluk, 16, will dress for his first game, but he is getting close.
"He’s been cleared by everybody to play, all that kind of thing," Gylywoychuk said. "… It’ll be a game-time kind of decision, see how he is, but he’s getting better every day."
Meanwhile, rookie left-winger Geordie Maguire, who had two assists Saturday, is expected to miss tonight’s game with what the team is calling a lower-body injury.
ONE-TIMERS: Saskatoon right-winger Josh Nicholls had his charging suspension set at one game, meaning he is eligible to return to the Blades lineup tonight ... Moose Jaw Warriors D Joel Edmundson of Brandon has been suspended for starting a fight with Swift Current Broncos LW Adam Lowry, who only picked up a minor penalty on the play.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 26, 2012