Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Saskatoon Blades gave the Brandon Wheat Kings a positive finish to their road trip, but it wasn’t enough to achieve what they set out for last week.
Having lost their first three games of the trip, the Wheat Kings finished the excursion with a 1-2-0-1 record. Saturday’s win boosted them into a tie for first place in the Western Hockey League’s East Division, but Wheat Kings head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon felt like his team left points on the table.
“We needed more points than three,” he said. “We were a shootout away I guess from going .500 on the trip. Had we won in Red Deer (the Wheat Kings lost 4-3 in a shootout to the Rebels on Wednesday), it would have been a four-point trip, which I guess we all feel is more passable, but we needed to get more points than three out of eight.”
McCrimmon did give his players credit for the way they responded after their disappointing showing in a 7-4 loss to the Calgary Hitmen on Friday night.
“We got to the hotel at six (Saturday) morning and it was our fourth game in five nights,” McCrimmon said. “We played four lines throughout and I thought guys had pretty good energy and played with better structure, which helped our cause.”
After sitting out Friday’s game due to a one-game kneeing suspension, Rihards Bukarts returned to the lineup to lead the Wheat Kings (27-19-5-1) on Saturday, scoring twice. Eric Roy and Jesse Gabrielle also scored for Brandon, with Rene Hunter and Tim McGauley picking up two assists apiece. Cameron Hebig replied for the Blades (14-36-1-3).
Power-play goals in the second period by Bukarts and Roy gave Brandon a 2-0 lead, but the Wheat Kings needed a strong showing by their penalty killers to maintain that edge going into the third period as they foiled a pair of Saskatoon five-on-three advantages late in the middle frame.
“There were more penalties than we’re used to seeing and we were able to get the two power-play goals, which allowed us to play with the lead,” said McCrimmon, whose team was 2-for-9 on the power play, while the Blades were 0-for-5. “And then a good kill at the end with the two different five-on-threes late in the second.”
Jordan Papirny made 33 saves for the Wheat Kings, who will host the Medicine Hat Tigers on Wednesday (7 p.m., Westman Place). Saskatoon goalie Troy Trombley stopped 38 shots.
ONE-TIMERS: The Wheat Kings have one game in hand on the Broncos, with the Regina Pats lurking one point back … Brandon RW Peter Quenneville had an assist to stretch his point-scoring streak to eight games (five goals, eight assists), while Bukarts is on a six-game streak (six goals, two assists) … McGauley has two assists in each of the past two games … The Wheat Kings played without C John Quenneville (upper body, week-to-week), who was their scoring leader going into the game, while LW Brett Kitt and D Kord Pankewicz were also scratched … The Blades were also missing their top scorer, RW Nikita Scherbak (upper body, day-to-day) … Calgary G Chris Driedger, who backstopped the Hitmen to a 7-4 victory over the Wheat Kings on Friday night, was credited with a goal in a 5-2 loss to the Kootenay Ice on Saturday.