REGINA — First-time jitters were nowhere to be seen when more than half of the Brandon Wheat Kings lineup saw Western Hockey League post-season action for the first time on Saturday night.
The Wheat Kings received first-period goals from four players making their playoff debuts — forwards Jayce Hawryluk, John and Peter Quenneville and defenceman Ryan Pilon — in their 6-3 series-opening victory over the Regina Pats at the Brandt Centre. Rookie Jesse Gabrielle also scored, leaving captain Ryan Pulock as the only Brandon player with any WHL playoff experience to score in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final.
Pilon, who arrived from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in a trade this season, had been waiting two years for the moment.
Like the Wheat Kings, the Hurricanes missed the playoffs last season, but Lethbridge was also on the outside looking in this year, and Pilon was thankful for the opportunity.
"When I got traded to Brandon, that was one thing I was really looking forward to is playing a little post-season hockey," said the 17-year-old defenceman, who had a goal and an assist in Game 1.
"Excitement is the only word. You get a little jitters before the game, but that goes away in the first period."
In addition to all the scoring by the playoff newbies, Wheat Kings rookie goaltender Jordan Papirny made 31 saves for the win in his first WHL playoff game.
Others making their post-season debuts for the Wheat Kings on Saturday were imports Rihards Bukarts and Richard Nejezchleb, and fellow forwards Quintin Lisoway, Ryley Lindgren and Nolan Patrick, the 15-year-old midget call-up who was chosen by Brandon with the fourth pick in last year’s WHL bantam draft. Kord Pankewicz and Tyler Coulter played their first career playoff games in Game 2 on Sunday.
Gabrielle, a 16-year-old left-winger who played high school hockey in Minnesota last season, was itching to see what the post-season was like and he said it didn’t disappoint.
"You’ve been off the ice for a week (leading up to the playoffs), you really want to go out there and get that first game under your belt," he said.
"It’s just really exciting, (the players were) just really anxious to play in Regina, but it was a real good start to the series."
The Brandt Centre was sold out on Saturday, with 6,200 fans at the game, and Gabrielle loved the energy.
"The atmosphere was great (on Saturday), a lot of people here," he continued. "Things are more important in the playoffs, so everyone’s stepping it up."
Pilon said it helped the Wheat Kings to have plenty of support in the building, and although the intensity on the ice was raised from the regular season, the players were able to adapt to it quickly.
"It’s more tight-checking," he said. "You don’t have a lot of time with the puck, but you’ve just got to go out there and play the game like you have been the past 72 games."