One is a proven producer, one is not, but the Brandon Wheat Kings imports both arrived in training camp with the burden of high expectations on their shoulders.
Swiss sophomore Alessio Bertaggia enters the Western Hockey League season as the top returning scorer among Brandon’s forwards after producing 24 goals and 50 points in 64 games last season.
Highly touted entering his first season, Bertaggia had a spectacular debut with the Wheat Kings, scoring three times in his first game and five times over the course of his first three contests.
He couldn’t keep up that torrid place, but the shifty winger nevertheless provided Brandon with solid secondary scoring.
As one of only two forwards on the roster to break the 20-point barrier last season, the expectations will only increase for Bertaggia this year.
“I try to not think about it and just play the way I can play and try to help out my teammates,” Bertaggia said, sporting a cut on his right cheek after a collision with prospect Kyler Hehn during the first scrimmage of main camp on Friday at Westman Place. “And for sure try to be a leader on the ice and off the ice.”
While Bertaggia, 19, won’t be surrounded by veteran snipers like he was last season, it’s scary to think that the 5-foot-9, 165-pound speedster believes he might actually be faster this season.
“Obviously it’s the beginning of the season and we’re not a lot on the ice, but I hope it’s going to be better,” he said. “I think I gained a little bit of speed and some strength.”
While Bertaggia is a waterbug on the ice, newcomer Richard Nejezchleb displayed a nice skill set in his first scrimmage Friday night, complemented by a 6-foot-2, 212-pound frame that suggests the Czech winger should be able to handle the WHL’s physical style of play.
Having been in Brandon for a week, Nejezchleb is settling in nicely.
“I’m excited,” said Nejezchleb, who had 11 goals and 23 points in 24 games for the Slavia Praha team in the Czech under-20 league last season.
“It’s a very nice city. I’m enjoying the hockey here, the guys are friendly, nice, my billets are friendly, very nice people, but I’m a little bit tired from the flight and it’s a new place, so I have to adjust.”
Just getting here was an ordeal for Nejezchleb, who estimates his trip from Prague took 30 hours including an overnight airport stay in New York City due to a missed connecting flight.
Nejezchleb hopes it all pays off with a strong season in Brandon and a second look from the National Hockey League clubs that passed him over in this year’s Entry Draft.
“If I will work hard, I hope I be drafted,” he said. “It’s a bigger chance than be drafted from Czech Republic.”
SCRIMMAGE SCORING: Homegrown prospect Tyler Coulter scored three goals in two scrimmages on Friday, including a pair to lead Team Gold to a 6-1 win over Team White in the late session. Rookie Dallas Starodub added a goal and an assist in the evening game for Gold, while veteran goalie Corbin Boes combined with 15-year-old prospect Logan Thompson to stop 22 of 23 shots.
In the early game, rookie Taylor Cooper scored three times in the dying minutes of the game as Gold came from four goals down to force overtime, only to lose 7-6 to Team Black on prospect Hunter Smith’s OT goal. Veteran defenceman Eric Roy scored twice for Team Black, while prospects John Quenneville and Jordan Bochinski had four points apiece.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 1, 2012