Brandon Wheat Kings forward Nick Buonassisi celebrates his team’s first goal — scored by Jason Swyripa — in front of Prince Albert Raiders goaltender Luke Siemens during WHL action on Wednesday night at Westman Place. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
With more games like Wednesday’s, the Brandon Wheat Kings might have been preparing for the playoffs next week rather than the draft lottery.
The Wheat Kings out-hustled the Prince Albert Raiders and largely as a result oustcored them as well, skating to a 4-1 Western Hockey League victory in front of a crowd of 4,454 at Westman Place.
Eliminated from playoff contention, Brandon wraps up its season this weekend with a home-and-home series against the Moose Jaw Warriors.
The Wheat Kings (23-39-4-4) can climb out of the Eastern Conference basement by sweeping the Warriors and forward Jens Meilleur said the win over the Raiders — who led the East Division for much of the season before falling on hard times recently — will give Brandon a major boost for those final two games.
"Beating teams like that is a great confidence builder," said Meilleur, who scored for the Wheat Kings late in the second period. "And then having a good feeling (about finishing strongly) but still kind of a bitter feeling going into the summer because we didn’t make playoffs is always good motivation."
Jason Swyripa, Richard Nejezchleb and Colton Waltz also scored for the Wheat Kings, while Corbin Boes was steady in the victory, making 25 saves.
"Give our guys credit," said Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk, whose team will visit the Warriors on Friday night before returning home for their season finale on Saturday. "I thought all four lines contributed and I thought our defence as a unit back there was very good.
"And then when we needed Corbin to be big and make some saves for us, he did that very well for us tonight."
Jonas Knutsen replied for the Raiders (35-28-3-4), who lost their sixth straight game despite 30 saves — a number of them quality stops — from goaltender Luke Siemens.
The Wheat Kings opened the scoring 7:23 into the first period as Swyripa deflected in Nick Walters’ point shot.
Nejezchleb stretched the Wheat Kings’ lead to 2-0 with a second-period power-play goal as he and Chad Robinson hammered away at a loose puck until it finally found its way into the net.
It was a blue-collar goal on a blue-collar night for the big Czech, who was also a physical factor, using his size to help the Wheat Kings control the puck in the offensive zone and constantly taking the body against his opponents.
"I was trying to play hard," said Nejezchleb, whose goal gave Brandon a 1-for-5 night on the power play. "I’m kind of sick a little bit and I’m battling through it. I’m not feeling very good, so I’m trying to hit hard, play hard and do simple plays."
Knutsen wristed a shot to the top corner that got the Raiders back within one, but Meilleur restored the Wheat Kings’ two-goal lead on a tremendous individual effort. He beat the Prince Albert defence up the ice, using his body to hold off Dylan Busenius — who was going to be called on a delayed penalty until Meilleur scored — then lifted the puck over Siemens.
The goal was timely as it came shortly after the Wheat Kings had killed off a pair of penalties — part of a perfect 3-for-3 night for their killers — and ensured Brandon would take the momentum into the third period.
"The D-men were working hard in the corner and got the puck up to (Taylor) Cooper and Cooper gave it to me and I just tried to move my boots as quick as I could and make something of the play," Meilleur said. "We would have got a penalty or a penalty shot but I was lucky enough to put it in the net."
Waltz’s goal in the third period wasn’t as pretty, but it put the game out of reach. He joined the rush and nearly missed Marek Kalus’s centring pass, but got just enough on it to send the puck trickling through Siemens’ legs.
ONE-TIMERS: Brandon RW Marek Kalus had two assists … LW Jesse Gabrielle, a 15-year-old call-up, made his WHL debut for the Wheat Kings … Brandon scratched C/RW Jayce Hawryluk (upper body), who was hurt in Tuesday’s practice, as well as C/LW John Quenneville (lower body, season-ending), C Tyrel Seaman (concussion, indefinite) and D Kord Pankewicz.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 14, 2013