Rookie defenceman Dominic Thom handles the puck during the Brandon Wheat Kings’ practice Thursday at Westman Place. The final weekend of the pre-season begins tonight. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
When it comes to landing a long-term spot with the Brandon Wheat Kings, this weekend’s pre-season games aren’t the be-all and end-all.
The club often carries a few extra players into the start of the Western Hockey League regular season, with the toughest decisions yet to be made. Still, those battling for roster spots can’t afford to miss any opportunities to make a good impression and the only way for players to guarantee they’ll be around for the big games next weekend, when the 2013-14 campaign begins, is by putting their best foot forward this weekend.
"I look at it as huge, obviously," 17-year-old defence prospect Dominic Thom said of the Wheat Kings’ home-and-home series with the Regina Pats, tonight at 7:30 at Westman Place and tomorrow in the Queen City. "Coming into training camp I was pretty anxious to get going after the whole summer … so I just sort of leave that up to the way I play this weekend. I can’t really think about it too much because in the end it’s not really my decision if I make the team or not, but I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen."
The Wheat Kings opened their pre-season last weekend by splitting with the Moose Jaw Warriors. It’s a short build-up to the regular season, but Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon expects the team to make some noticeable strides during that span.
"I realistically expect big improvement," McCrimmon said. "We’ll probably dress a little bit older lineup. We’ve had another full week of practice, we’ve had two games under our belt last weekend, which I felt were real beneficial. We’re that much closer to opening day; you want to have your team game moving that direction so that you’re ready to play (for the start of the regular season)."
Twenty-four of the 27 players in camp right now have gotten into at least one pre-season game, with the exceptions being rookie prospects Duncan Campbell and Jordan Bochinski and second-year forward Richard Nejezchleb, who was at the Pittsburgh Penguins rookie camp last weekend.
Now that all of the players have spent a little more time working on the Wheat Kings’ systems and most of them have the first-game jitters out of the way, Thom believes it will be a little easier for everyone to focus on what they have to do for this weekend’s games.
"Especially in the first Moose Jaw game, I was pretty hesitant," said Thom, a 6-foot-3, 186-pound Calgarian who had an assist and a plus/minus of +1 in his pre-season appearance a week ago. "I was just trying to keep it simple and stuff like that, but (the Wheat Kings coaches) know how I play. It’s just a matter if I can get myself to play like that."
ONE-TIMERS: Brandon RW Jayce Hawryluk is unlikely to play after missing this week’s practices with a sore shoulder … The Pats enter the game with a 1-2-0-0 pre-season record … The Wheat Kings visit the Warriors a week from today to open the regular season, then play their home opener the following night against the Warriors … LW Kailum Gervais, a former Wheat Kings prospect who skipped camp this year, has turned up in Red Deer and said he was unhappy with his projected role in Brandon. "I feel that I can bring more to the table than just fighting," Gervais told Greg Meacham of the Red Deer Advocate … Four WHL teams have made the Canadian Hockey League’s Top 10 pre-season rankings, with Portland third, Prince Albert fourth, Edmonton ninth and Kootenay 10th. Ontario’s London Knights are ranked first, with Quebec’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar second.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 13, 2013