EDMONTON — Brett Kitt is like a fidgety horse in a starting gate, just waiting to be let loose.
Kitt is one of a handful of the Brandon Wheat Kings’ younger players who have had their patience tested, waiting and watching from the stands while their teammates compete in the Western Hockey League playoffs.
It’s not the most glamourous role, nor the one he dreamed of growing up playing hockey in Brandon, but the rookie knows the reasons behind it and for now he’s biding his time, waiting for his turn and doing what he can to help in other capacities.
"I just really want to play and it’s hard not being able to play," said Kitt, who turned 18 in January. "But I’ll get my chance, whether it’s this year or next year. I’m just learning right now. I’m still young."
During the regular season, the Wheat Kings worked most of their youngsters in and out of the lineup, sometimes depending on need and sometimes just to give them some playing experience. But in the playoffs, when the importance of each game is greatly magnified, the approach changes somewhat, with the coaches dressing the 20 players they feel give them the best chance to win each day. In a first-round sweep of the Regina Pats there was very little need to shuffle the deck and even after losing Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal to the Oil Kings on Thursday, Friday’s practice at NAIT suggested very little in the way of lineup changes for Game 2 this afternoon at Rexall Place (12:30, CKLQ).
Kitt, Braylon Shmyr and Kale Clague, who was called up from midget before the Wheat Kings’ second-round series against the Edmonton Oil Kings, have yet to dress for a playoff game. Only once in the first round did Brandon need to turn to injury replacements, with Peter Quenneville and Eric Roy missing the same game, and they were ably replaced by forward Tyler Coulter, who had two assists, and Kord Pankewicz, who had a plus/minus of +1 in his only performance.
It’s not the kind of role the 16-year-old Shmyr — Brandon’s first-round pick in the 2012 WHL bantam draft — was used to before this season.
"When I’m sitting in the stands, I usually just watch and observe and see what they’re trying to do in playoffs and just try to bring it out in practice here, just in case I do get called," said Shmyr, who had three goals and six assists in 34 regular-season games. "I’ll be ready, 100 per cent."
While they haven’t seen any game action yet, Kitt and Shmyr have both shifted around to different spots in the lineup during practices, filling in for players who were sitting out. Kitt, a left-winger, has even taken turns on the blue-line during a few training sessions. Both players feel that if they can try to bring playoff intensity to their practices, they’ll be better prepared, along with everyone around them, for the next game.
"You can’t have one guy lagging around practice, not working his hardest," said Kitt, who had five goals, five assists and 42 penalty minutes in 37 regular-season games. "Around this time of year, everybody needs to be working hard, whether you’re playing or not, just to give everybody a boost."
ON THE CLOCK: The WHL took plenty of criticism in the first round after announcing that Game 1 of the Oil Kings’ series against the Prince Albert Raiders would be decided by a shootout if it went longer than a single overtime period, due to an Oilers NHL game that night at Rexall Place. As it happened, Edmonton won in regulation.
Well, that scenario has come into play again. The league has announced that today’s game between the Wheat Kings and Oil Kings will be limited to a maximum of two OT sessions before resorting to a shootout due to an Edmonton Rush lacrosse game tonight. Normally, overtime will go on as long as necessary to determine the winner of a WHL playoff game. Scheduling of this series with Brandon has been complicated by a concert on Friday night, the lacrosse game tonight and an Oilers game on Sunday night at Rexall.