The Brandon Midget AAA Wheat Kings gave themselves a huge Christmas present Saturday night at the Sportsplex.
In addition to beating the visiting Yellowhead Chiefs 5-2 in their final Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League game before the Christmas break, the Wheaties (21-5-2) also moved into a tie for first place in the West Division with the Chiefs (21-8-2) and secured the tie-breaker between the two teams.
"It’s really important (to win the tiebreaker) because this is a rink that not a lot of teams like to come in and play in," Wheat Kings head coach Ken Schneider said. "It’s not that friendly.
"Home-ice advantage can be a huge factor. This is my third year here and we’ve never been in a position where we’ve had that home-ice advantage for any length of time. It’s extremely important as we move forward."
The two teams have been evenly matched and battling for first place in the division all season. All three of their previous meetings were decided by a single goal. Yellowhead won two of those games, although one went to a shootout.
Saturday night’s game was a little different. Brandon took a 1-0 lead on a goal midway through the first period on a goal by Jordy Stallard, then broke it open by scoring two goals in a span of one minute and 11 seconds.
With a 1-0 lead late in the first period, Duncan Campbell took a rebound from his own end up the ice, and dangled past a defender and beat Yellowhead goalie Brett Friesen to double Brandon’s lead with 23 seconds left.
The Wheat Kings then started the second period on the power play, courtesy of a Taylor Sanheim slashing penalty after the final whistle of the first period, and James Shearer took advantage by rifling a point shot into the net for a 3-0 Brandon lead.
Sanheim and Brandon’s Brett Kitt traded goals after that before the Chiefs earned a two-minute two-man advantage in the third.
Sanheim scored 1:32 into the power play, but the Chiefs couldn’t beat Tyler Gutenberg for the rest of the night, including on another power play late in the third.
While Wheat Kings forward Tyler Coulter would have liked to see better discipline from his team in a heated third period, he was proud of how focused everyone was to not let the Chiefs get back in the contest.
"I think just staying back and watching them and staying focused on what we had to achieve here was probably the biggest thing," said Coulter, who had one goal and one assist. "Our hard work for us was huge and it paid off."
The teams are now off for a while — Yellowhead returns to the ice on Dec. 30 and Brandon doesn’t have another game until Jan. 5 — and the players and coaches are going to take full advantage of it by spending time with their families. Coulter said the break will be nice, but his team will be ready to roll when they step back on the ice after the break.
"I’m looking forward to spending time with our families and saying thank you to them," he said. "After we come back, just carrying on with hard work and trying to win."
Meanwhile in Dauphin on Saturday, Jordan McCausland had two goals and one assist for the Southwest Cougars as they defeated the Parkland Rangers 4-0. Carter Suski and Mitch Lyall both had one goal and one assist for the Cougars (15-14-2), who went 3-for-3 on the power play.
Tyson Verhelst made 24 saves to earn his first shutout of the season, while Matt Kohlman stopped 22 shots for the Rangers (4-25-0).