Brandon’s John Quenneville takes a stick in the nose from Kamloops’ Ryan Rehill Tuesday at Westman Place. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Rihards Bukarts has discovered the simple correlation between shooting the puck and scoring goals.
The Latvian import had his first Western Hockey League two-goal game as the Brandon Wheat Kings defeated the Kamloops Blazers 5-2 Tuesday at Westman Place.
After thinking pass-first for much of his first WHL season, Bukarts has made a concerted effort lately to shoot more, and it has paid off to the tune of five goals in his last five games.
"The first half of this season, I don’t shoot the puck a lot," Bukarts said. "… So I’m changing something in my game, just shoot the puck and score some goals."
Jayce Hawryluk had a goal and an assist in his return from a two-game suspension as the Wheat Kings improved to 17-14-2-0, jumping into a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with the Prince Albert Raiders and moving three games above .500 for the first time this season. Jesse Gabrielle had a goal and an assist, while Peter Quenneville also scored for Brandon. Chad Robinson and Jens Meilleur had two assists each.
Kamloops (6-21-2-2) has dropped 13 straight games, and while Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon was happy his players earned the two points, he wasn’t entirely satisfied with the way they went about it.
"I didn’t think it was our best game in terms of some of the turnovers," said McCrimmon, whose team is 8-3-2-0 in its last 13 games. "I didn’t think we were as strong on our stick or protected the puck as well as we have been, which I think reflected on the fact that we had less shots on goal than what we’ve been having as well. I think we were the better team, I think we deserved to win, but I also think we could have been much better."
It took only 1:31 for Hawryluk to have an impact in front of a crowd of 3,317. John Quenneville set up Hawryluk, who only had to tap the puck past Blazers goalie Cole Kehler, a midget call-up making his first WHL start. Hawryluk said the chemistry was instant as he stepped back on the ice with Quenneville and Gabrielle.
"John’s a great player and playing with him is awesome," Hawryluk said. "And Gabe, as a rookie coming into the season, he’s a strong, fast player. He’s been real good for us, and I think overall our line’s been clicking. It was nice to be back in the lineup and I felt good out there."
Twice the Blazers battled back to tie the game early in the second, but both times the Wheat Kings responded quickly.
Shynkaruk knotted the score 1-1, making his first WHL goal a strange one as the puck bounced off Brandon goalie Jordan Papirny’s glove and onto the top of the net, before being flipped off the mesh, off Wheat Kings blue-liner Kord Pankewicz’s back and in. That was followed shortly afterward by Peter Quenneville tipping in Ryan Pulock’s point shot.
Krienke got the Blazers back on even ground, but only 56 seconds later Bukarts converted a Robinson feed to put Brandon on top again. Gabrielle gave the Wheat Kings their first two-goal lead before the wild second period was out, taking a Hawryluk pass in front of the net and reaching back to lift the puck over Kehler.
Bukarts wrapped up the scoring on a third-period breakaway, fanning on his shot but fooling Kehler as the puck slid past him into the corner of the net.
"Really, you go back since we got home from Kootenay, (Bukarts has) had a good month of December here," McCrimmon said. "And I think those goal-scorers, once they start scoring a little bit it gets contagious, and I think that’s a big part of it for any offensive player."
Papirny finished the night with 31 saves, while Kehler stopped 26 shots. Both teams went 0-for-2 on the power play.
The Wheat Kings return to action when they host the Kelowna Rockets in their Teddy Bear Toss game on Friday (7:30 p.m., Westman Place).
ONE-TIMERS: Wheat Kings G Curtis Honey (illness) missed the game, while D Eric Roy (lower body, day-to-day), C Ryley Lindgren and LW Brett Kitt were also scratched … Kamloops scratches included D Jordan Thomson, who has gone home to Wawanesa for personal reasons … C Matt Needham, the Blazers’ captain, left the game early after being hit in the head by a teammate’s dump-in attempt in the first period … Kehler, who has joined the Blazers while G Bolton Pouliot is hurt, is from Altona but is playing at B.C.’s Okanagan Hockey Academy this season, and won’t turn 16 until next week.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 11, 2013