Brandon’s Wheaton King has teamed up with the Nipawin Hawks. (DWIGHT KINLEY/NIPAWIN HAWKS)
Killarney native Jesse Bernard (DWIGHT KINLEY/NIPAWIN HAWKS)
As two-thirds of the Manitoban contingent in a locker-room loaded with Saskatchewanians, Wheaton King and Jesse Bernard have to look out for each other when their Nipawin Hawks teammates decide to dish out some good-natured abuse.
The Westman boys work together pretty well on the ice as well.
King, a 20-year-old from Brandon, and Bernard, a 19-year-old from Killarney, are proving to be a productive pair for the Hawks, with both forwards among the scoring leaders in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Entering Friday’s slate of games, King shared 12th place in league scoring with 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) in 30 games, while Bernard was tied for 20th with 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists) in 41 contests.
"We’re both the same kind of player," said Bernard, who plays centre with King on his left wing. "We’ve always got our heads up and it just kinda clicked as soon as they put us together. There’s a little connection, I guess, between us."
Bernard arrived in Nipawin in November 2011 after a trade with the Estevan Bruins. Scoreless in 20 games as a rookie with the Bruins, he hit his stride after joining the Hawks, putting up 27 points in 32 games the rest of the way. He was joined by King after a deal at the January 2012 trade deadline and the duo have been linemates ever since.
Although they grew up in the same area and knew of one another, King and Bernard didn’t cross paths often before teaming up with the Hawks.
Bernard’s first season (2009-10) in the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League with the Southwest Cougars was King’s last season with the Brandon Midget AAA Wheat Kings. However, King spent the first part of that season with the Western Hockey League’s Wheat Kings and, by Bernard’s recollection, they only faced each other once in the midget league.
"We didn’t really know each other too well before we got here but, ever since we got here, we kinda just hit it off and we pretty much hang out every day," King said. "It’s really nice having him here, especially because he’s from right around Brandon."
The Hawks had high expectations for this season, coming off a solid 2011-12 campaign when they went 34-20-4-0 and fell in the second overtime of Game 7 of a hard-fought playoff series against the Battleford North Stars. So far, the club is in the hunt again, entering Friday in third place in the North Division with a 23-13-2-4 mark.
"Last year we had a really good team and we had a lot of guys coming back that were 19-year-olds last year that are 20 now," King said. "So we knew we had a strong chance and we struggled a bit at the start of the year, but now we’re kinda hitting our stride."
With nine wins in 12 games going back to the middle of December, Bernard believes the Hawks are legitimate contenders this season in the SJHL.
"I think we’ve got all the key aspects and we could definitely make a run at it this year," he said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 2, 2013