The statistical story never tells the whole story, but there certainly are some telling numbers when you look at this year’s edition of the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Sporting a 9-9-2-1 record heading into tonight’s first of back-to-back games against the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook, B.C., the Wheat Kings have fallen out of a playoff position — keeping in mind it is only November — and into ninth place in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. When you break down the numbers, it’s easy to see the areas that need the most work for the Wheat Kings.
First, the good news: The Wheat Kings are only a point out of playoff position and just a win away from moving into a tie for fifth in what is a very tight Eastern Conference. And the Wheat Kings have a chance to make a move this weekend if they can take advantage of a pair of games against the Ice, who are last in the league at 5-12-1-0 and only 3-9-1-0 on home ice this season.
The bad news? The 11th-place Saskatoon Blades (6-3-0-1 in their last 10 games) are finally starting to turn it around and there’s little doubt that the Memorial Cup hosts will also pass the Wheat Kings in the standings shortly.
Good news: Brandon’s penalty killing has improved this month, successfully killing off 16 of 21 short-handed situations (76.2 per cent). The bad news? For the season, Brandon’s penalty kill is functioning at a league-worst 69.8 per cent. How bad is that? No team in the league has finished with that poor of a penalty killing percentage in 16 seasons.
Brandon’s power play hasn’t been much better, now 15th in the league at 18.6 per cent and going only 2-for-15 this month (13.3 per cent). Overall, the Wheat Kings have given up 14 more power-play and short-handed goals than they have scored this season, a stat they desperately need to turn around.
Good news: Despite dressing six rookie forwards every single night, the Wheat Kings have produced offensively. Brandon sits precisely in the middle of the pack with 67 goals scored, led by Swiss sniper Alessio Bertaggia (13 goals) and dynamic defenceman Ryan Pulock (eight goals), who are the only point-a-game players on the roster. The bad news? Brandon has given up the second-most goals against (82) in the league and are allowing more than 35 shots against per game, their worst showing in more than two decades.
It won’t turn them into a Memorial Cup contender, but improving their special teams and tightening up defensively could make a world of difference for the Wheat Kings.
• Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh competes in her second career World Cup skeleton race today in Park City, Utah. Hawrysh raced to an 11th-place finish in her World Cup debut last week in Lake Placid, N.Y. Meanwhile, 2010 Olympic gold medallist Jon Montgomery of Russell races on Saturday in Park City. Monty was 12th in last week’s season opener.
• Brandon professional mixed martial arts fighter Curtis (The Demon) DeMarce will officially launch his new T-shirt line on Saturday at Boston Pizza at 8 p.m., just prior to the restaurant showing Georges St-Pierre’s return from reconstructive knee surgery in UFC 154 in Montreal. DeMarce is also on the comeback trail as he continues his rehabilitation after a serious car accident seven months ago that shattered his right arm and caused tendon and nerve damage.
• Brandon boxer Noel Harding — owner of the Brandon Boxing Club — is still waiting for his new promoter, Richard Calavera of Minot, N.D., to line up his second professional fight. Calavera is trying to get Harding onto a Dec. 7 event in Montana, with a proposed card in Belcourt, N.D., on hold until renovations at the casino there are completed. Harding (1-0) also said Calavera has applied to the Manitoba Pro Boxing Commission for a licence to promote a possible pro card in Brandon in January.
• It will be a big night Saturday at the new Healthy Living Centre when the Brandon University Bobcats basketball teams play their first conference games in BU’s new facility. The Bobcats will battle the Winnipeg Wesmen, with the women’s game — featuring Brandonite Tia Coulter of the Wesmen — set to tip off at 5 p.m., followed by the men’s game — featuring former Bobcat coach Mike Raimbault running the Wesmen bench — at 7 p.m.
• Basketball isn’t the only thing on tap in the Wheat City this weekend. Eighteen teams will hit the ice in the Dulux Paints Female Hockey Challenge at the three Keystone Centre rinks, while 32 of the top junior curling teams in North America are taking part in the Sun Life Junior Challenge at the Brandon Curling Club. Meanwhile, some of the top racquetball players from North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba — including former Canadian junior men’s champion Kurtis Cullen of Brandon and the country’s top-ranked female player, Jen Saunders of Winnipeg — will take part in the Brandon Open, beginning today at the Sportsplex.