Soon, the Brandon Wheat Kings will have to start punching above their weight, and members of the Western Hockey League team hope to start tonight.
The Wheat Kings, seventh in the Eastern Conference and still trying to lock up a playoff spot, host the Edmonton Oil Kings, who are tied for first with the Calgary Hitmen. The Wheat Kings lost 5-1 to the Hitmen on Tuesday, and veteran Brandon forward Chad Robinson said the team needs to play with more confidence against top teams.
"I think what it comes down to is our preparation," he said. "I think as a whole we just need to believe in ourselves as a team that we can beat those tough teams. I think that’s something that we definitely need to get better at because we haven’t been winning against those teams that are above us."
The last time the Wheat Kings beat a team ahead of them in the standings came on Jan. 17, when they topped Swift Current 6-5 to catch the Broncos for first place in the East Division. Their most recent win against a team five or more points ahead of them was way back on Nov. 19 when they trailed the Broncos by eight points before downing them 3-2 in a shootout.
But Brandon has had some success against Edmonton, beating the Oil Kings and taking them to overtime in their first two games. A win tonight would allow the Wheat Kings to win the four-game season series, and head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon is looking for a more consistent performance throughout the game than the club produced against the Hitmen.
"You need a pretty precise game to beat a first-place team," he said. "… To beat teams like that you have to play a full 60 minutes, you have to stay focused throughout. You can’t afford lapses at any point in the game, and that will be our approach going into the game versus Edmonton."
With five games left in the regular season, Brandon is two points ahead of the eighth-place Red Deer Rebels and four up on the Prince Albert Raiders, who are outside of the playoffs for now, but have a game in hand on the two teams above them. The Rebels and Raiders are playing well right now and an upset or two by the Wheat Kings over the final nine days of the campaign would go a long way toward securing a post-season berth, not to mention give them some confidence against the sort of teams they’re likely to face if and when they make it there.
"We can have confidence in what we can accomplish," said Robinson, whose team visits the Raiders on Saturday. "I think we have a group of guys who, if we’re determined and believe in our group, then we can beat those top teams."
ONE-TIMERS: Brandon’s February player of the month was G Jordan Papirny, who had a 2.86 GAA and a .920 save percentage … RW Peter Quenneville and RW Jens Meilleur (lower-body injuries) missed Thursday’s practice.