The Brandon Wheat Kings would like nothing more than to see the Prince Albert Raiders fade to a dot in their rearview mirror this weekend.
Brandon host Prince Albert for a pair of games, tonight and tomorrow at Westman Place. With a couple of wins, the Wheat Kings, who sit fifth in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference at 22-16-4-0, would put eight points between themselves and the Raiders (21-18-2-0), who are holding the eighth and final playoff spot right now.
"(Wheat Kings head coach/ GM Kelly McCrimmon) has been harping on us that we’ve got to go up in the standings and not down in the standings," veteran Brandon defenceman Eric Roy said. "… P.A.’s below us and we’ve got to keep them below us."
Of course the Raiders have other ideas, with the chance to catch the Wheat Kings with a pair of wins and perhaps turn around an underwhelming season in which they were expected to contend for the East Division pennant.
They’re 3-0 against Brandon this season, including their last time here when Prince Albert rallied from two goals down, tying the game with 12 seconds left in the third period before winning 18 seconds into overtime.
The Raiders have also made some significant changes leading up to today’s trade deadline, adding 6-foot-5 defenceman Graeme Craig and point-per-game scorer Collin Valcourt, among others.
"They’re a different team now," Roy said. "They’ve made some trades. They’re going to be a lot stronger team, but we’ve just got to go out there and be simple and play hard and hopefully get a ‘W’ (tonight)."
As much as this pair of games means in the standings, it will also give the Wheat Kings a little more experience to help prepare them for the playoffs. While the team often plays home-and-home sets against their East Division rivals, back-to-back games in the same rink are fairly uncommon.
They’ve had a couple on the road this season, against the Raiders and the Kootenay Ice; now they’ll get a chance to host two in a row against P.A., with a similar pair against the Ice coming up in February.
"The doubleheaders present an opportunity to have a playoff-type schedule," said McCrimmon, adding the preparation is the same with the exception of the teams being able to make adjustments between games.
"… It’s a different schedule than having two different opponents and … it will be a good opportunity to get some experience that will be valuable at playoff time."
ONE-TIMERS: Wheat Kings C John Quenneville, who missed Tuesday’s game, practised on Thursday as the team had all 23 players on the ice … The Wheat Kings are dubbing Saturday’s game against the Raiders as ’80s Retro Night … Craig is expected to make his debut as a Raider tonight, while C Leon Draisaitl and D Josh Morrissey, who played at the world junior championship, could return to the Prince Albert lineup.