Stelio Mattheos has passed every test he’s taken so far with the Brandon Wheat Kings, and the next challenge for the first overall pick in this year’s Western Hockey League bantam draft comes this weekend.
The Wheat Kings open their pre-season schedule with a home-and-home series against the Regina Pats, tonight at Westman Place (at 7:30) and tomorrow in the Queen City.
Mattheos, a 15-year-old forward, showed off his offensive skill throughout training camp and now he’s anxious to see what he can do against another WHL team.
"I’m really excited to play my first WHL pre-season game," said Mattheos, who is not old enough to be a WHL regular this season and will instead join the Midget AAA Winnipeg Wild. "I just wanna play my best out there, make an impression, skate my hardest and try to make a good play every time I get the puck."
With a short pre-season schedule of only four games — the Pats have already played three times — Wheat Kings head coach/GM Kelly McCrimmon said his players and staff need to make the most of the exhibition contests.
"Certainly our young guys are going to get an opportunity to make an impression against an opponent," he said. "Of course we’ve been playing against each other in training camp and practice sessions here until the pre-season begins, so it’s real important from that standpoint. And then again because we only play four games, I think you have to be mindful of working towards your team game. Two weeks from (today) is opening day, so I think we have to try to work to have some structure to our game. We’ve stressed a lot of things with our team since we began practices, so I look to see how we’re coming along in some of those areas."
None of the five players drafted by NHL teams practised with the rest of the Wheat Kings yesterday, instead skating later with a group of local pros who will head off to camps next week. That’s a sign that a lot of youngsters will see significant ice time this season.
"We’ll probably roll the lines," McCrimmon said. "I think for special teams, we’ll use most players. There might be a situation late in the game where we might do it a little different, but we want to see players play. We’re hoping that it’s a game without a lot of penalties so we can evaluate players, and that’s the purpose of these games."
Up to eight players on the Wheat King roster could make their WHL pre-season debuts this weekend, while a handful of prospects — Duncan Campbell, Tanner Kaspick, Nolan Patrick and Kale Clague — have already seen duty as call-ups.
But it’s not only rookies who are anxiously awaiting their chance to hit the ice.
Veteran defenceman Taylor Green is looking forward to his first game after missing training camp due to injury.
"I want to test myself," the 19-year-old Green said. "Obviously all the other guys got to do that in main camp, and I was hindered with an injury, so it will be exciting for me to get out there and test myself for the first time."
ONE-TIMERS: Under the guidance of new head coach and senior VP of hockey operations John Paddock, a former Wheat King and an Oak River native, the Pats have gone 3-0 in the pre-season … Rookie Regina C Sam Steel leads the WHL in pre-season scoring with four goals and three assists in two games. Steel was drafted second overall by the Pats in 2013 … Second-year C Rylee Zimmer of Russell has one assist in two pre-season games with the Pats … Today is the Wheat Kings’ season-ticket pickup day at the Keystone Centre. The club has sold about 2,000 season tickets, putting them ahead of last year’s pace, when they finished with a season-ticket base of about 2,300.