John Quenneville is getting ready to step back into the lineup with the Brandon Wheat Kings facing their biggest weekend of the Western Hockey League season so far.
The Wheat Kings, tied for first in the East Division with Swift Current, host the Broncos tonight (7:30, Westman Place) before visiting them on Sunday. Quenneville hopes to give his team the upper hand, having practised with no restrictions on Thursday after missing the past six games with an upper-body injury. Brandon head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said Thursday Quenneville had yet to be cleared to play and should still be considered day-to-day, but the 17-year-old centre made his feelings clear.
"I feel really good," said Quenneville, who returned to practice earlier in the week but wasn’t taking part in contact at the time. "It’s been a long time coming. I really miss the game and I just want to play. My injury’s 100 per cent now, and my game is back to where it was before I got hurt, so I feel good."
The Wheat Kings’ scoring leader at the time of his injury, Quenneville has since been passed by linemate Jayce Hawryluk, but still sits second on the team with 21 goals and 45 points in 46 games. Brandon went only 2-3-0-1 in his absence and juggled its lines a couple of times while trying to find the right mix.
McCrimmon expects Quenneville’s return to have benefits right through the Wheat Kings’ lineup.
"We had pretty good chemistry on that line prior to his injury," said McCrimmon, who had Quenneville skating between Hawryluk and rookie Jesse Gabrielle in Thursday’s session. "Jayce and John have been our top scorers all year so I think it will be good for our team. Allows us to move some other people around to where we want them, so we’re definitely a better team with him healthy and playing."
Since the Wheat Kings caught the Broncos on Jan. 17, they’ve been in a virtual dead heat, with both teams struggling to string together wins and open up much of an advantage, although Brandon has a game in hand. The Wheat Kings will actually have two in hand by the end of the weekend, with the Broncos visiting the Moose Jaw Warriors on Saturday in between their bouts with Brandon.
"(It’s a) home-and-home for us," McCrimmon said. "Swift (Friday), Swift Sunday so an important stretch, an important two games magnified by the fact we didn’t win on home ice (in a 3-2 loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers on Wednesday) night."
Having faced each other five times this season, including twice in the last few weeks, the teams know each other well and Quenneville believes the Wheat Kings’ ability to put offensive pressure on the Broncos will be key.
"We’ve played really well against Swift, especially in their barn," he said. "I think we’re best against them when we get pucks on goal and really give their goaltender a tough time, and if we do that Friday night I think we’ll be fine."
ONE-TIMERS: The Wheat Kings had their entire roster practise fully on Thursday … Brandon LW Rihards Bukarts enters the game on a seven-game point-scoring streak (six goals, three assists).