Brandon Wheat Kings goaltender Corbin Boes has posted an impressive .945 save percentage in the playoffs this season.
The bar has been raised for the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Even as they shook off an ugly mid-season slump and sizzled down the stretch, there were observers who felt that the Wheat Kings’ only opportunity to succeed in the Western Hockey League playoffs would hinge on their ability to work their way up the standings and avoid the powerhouse Edmonton Oil Kings in the first round.
They were able to do just that, jumping from eighth place to sixth in the Eastern Conference, then knocking off the third-place Calgary Hitmen to open the post-season.
Now, they’ve drawn the Oil Kings in the second round.
The fact that those same observers are giving Brandon a legitimate chance to pull off an upset against the top team from the regular season is a testament to just how far the Wheat Kings have come.
"Obviously you want to go as far as you can in the playoffs and the next step is Edmonton," captain Mark Stone said this week as the Wheat Kings began preparations for the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal, which begins Friday night (7:30, CKLQ pre-game) in Edmonton.
"They’ve been one of the top teams in the league this season (but) we feel confident, we feel like we’re preparing well, so I think we’re ready."
The Oil Kings finished 24 points ahead of the Wheat Kings (107-83) in the regular-season standings and have won 15 straight games. But the Wheat Kings are also playing their best hockey of the season, having handled the Hitmen in just five games.
"(The Oil Kings) are arguably the best team in the league on paper," Wheat Kings head coach Cory Clouston said. "We know that, we know we’re the underdog, we know the pressure’s on them.
"But we also know that we’re capable of winning this series if we have everybody contributing and if we’re playing as well as we did in the last series and then build on that."
The Oil Kings boast a deep and skilled team, but the Wheat Kings thrived against the Hitmen with production from throughout their lineup that was sometimes sporadic during the regular season.
Against the Hitmen, 10 different Wheat Kings scored goals, while 17 of their 18 skaters picked up at least a point.
Additionally, the Wheat Kings are a bigger team and believe they have an edge in the physical department.
"I think we’re going to have to be a very physical team against Edmonton," said 6-foot-2, 208-pound Wheat King left-winger Mike Ferland. "They’ve got pretty quick guys, they’re not very big but (the Wheat Kings need to) be very physical and I think our discipline has to be excellent."
Capable of scoring goals with any team, the Wheat Kings’ fate could rest on their ability to keep the puck out of their own net. Edmonton totalled 20 goals in the last three games of the season series on its way to three straight victories.
But defence and goaltending have been the biggest reasons for the Wheat Kings’ ascension, with goaltender Corbin Boes posting a glittering 1.95 goals-against average and a league-best .945 save percentage in the first round.
"I think it showed throughout the regular season how skilled (the Oil Kings) are, but for us we just have to keep it simple," Wheat Kings forward Paul Ciarelli said. "Every shift counts. …
"If every game we play a hard-working, 60-minute effort, I think we’ll do well."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 5, 2012