On the verge of a major meltdown, the Brandon Wheat Kings righted the ship Saturday at Westman Place and strengthened their hold on their spot in the Western Hockey League standings.
Entering the night in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, the Wheat Kings put away the disappointment of squandering a three-goal third period lead and beat the Regina Pats 4-3 on Richard Nejezchleb’s power-play marker with three seconds left in overtime. The win put the Wheat Kings in sole possession of fifth, one point ahead of the Pats and two ahead of the idle Prince Albert Raiders.
"We’re disappointed to give up a point, but I felt our team deserved two," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "We’d been unsuccessful our last four times in overtime. It really was important tonight to get the win and with a late power-play goal we were able to do that."
Nejezchleb had a goal and an assist, while Jens Meilleur, John Quenneville and Tyler Coulter scored in regulation for the Wheat Kings (21-16-4-0). Peter Quenneville assisted on two goals, including the winner.
After a scoreless first period, the Wheat Kings took control of the game by scoring three times in the second. They watched the lead fade away in the third period as the Pats (20-17-3-2) rallied with two goals from defenceman Colby Williams and a Patrick D’Amico tally. Williams’ first goal came only 39 seconds after D’Amico got the Pats on the scoreboard, and he struck again to tie the game with 5:08 remaining in regulation.
"I think we were playing really good hockey," Coulter said. "And then we got scored on and we started to lose composure a little bit, which is something we’ve been trying to work on a lot this season. But at least we were able to fight back and regroup."
The Wheat Kings outshot the Pats 5-0 in the extra session, with the deciding goal coming on a power play after Regina’s Chandler Stephenson was penalized for colliding with Brandon goalie Jordan Papirny.
With time running out, Wheat Kings captain Ryan Pulock carried the puck from end-to-end, and although he was prevented from getting to the net, he got the puck over to Peter Quenneville, who barely got the puck across to Nejezchleb. Nejezchleb had just enough room to slip the puck past Regina netminder Dawson MacAuley for his team-leading 22nd goal of the season.
"I saw Ryan (with) the puck and he has great speed so I just kind of wait behind him," Nejezchleb said. "The puck went to Pete and he just made a nice pass to me and I didn’t think, I just tried to bury it, and it happened."
Papirny made 31 saves to earn his fourth win in a row as the Wheat Kings opened a five-game homestand that continues Tuesday when they host the Red Deer Rebels (7 p.m., Westman Place). MacAuley stopped 36 shots for the Pats.
ONE-TIMERS: Peter Quenneville (three goals, seven assists) and Pulock (three goals, three assists) are both on six-game point-scoring streaks … Brandon was 1-for-5 on the power play, while Regina was 0-for-3, with both teams killing five-on-three chances in the first period that lasted nearly a minute each … Rookie Pats LW Rylee Zimmer of Russell earned his first WHL point with an assist on D’Amico’s goal … The Wheat Kings scratched D Kord Pankewicz (healthy) as well as LW Jesse Gabrielle (Team West) and Braylon Shmyr (Team Pacific), who will be back this week after competing in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge … Pats scratches included LW Braden Christoffer (upper body), LW Max Kammerer (German team, world junior championship) and D Brady Reagan (Team Pacific) ... Former Wheat King captain Mark Stone scored his first career NHL goal for the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.