Ryan Pilon hopes this reunion with his former Lethbridge Hurricanes teammates goes better than the first one.
Pilon, dealt to the Brandon Wheat Kings in November after asking for a trade and heading home, made his return to Lethbridge two weeks ago at the tail end of a three-game-in-four-night road trip. The 17-year-old defenceman had an assist, but was booed every time he touched the puck and, more importantly, the Wheat Kings fell 3-2 in overtime.
Tonight’s meeting (7 o’clock, Westman Place) is on Pilon’s terms and he expects a warmer reception and a better result.
"I don’t think there’ll much booing my way in this barn," Pilon, who has four goals and 21 points in 40 games since the trade, said after Tuesday’s practice at Westman Place.
"It takes away a lot of nerves, playing them once already, but it’s just another game, and it’s just another game we need to get two points."
The Wheat Kings (29-26-6-2), trying to move closer to securing a spot in the Western Hockey League playoffs, earned their first win in nine games on Saturday, beating the Moose Jaw Warriors 7-4. That brought an end to a gruelling stretch that included 15 games in 26 days.
They had three days off following that game — their longest break in three weeks, and their longest for the rest of the season — and Pilon said the players used that time wisely to hone their game.
"We’ve just gotta sharpen up every tool we have and these two back-to-back practices have been really good for us," he said. "… And these next three weeks, every point’s crucial for this playoff race."
It looks like the short break will also give the Wheat Kings a chance to get some bodies back in their lineup. After being short-staffed during the losing streak, Brandon had all of its players on the ice for Tuesday’s practice except for forward Peter Quenneville. That meant plenty of pupils were on hand for head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon to work with, and he said the club still has some cramming to do before the playoffs arrive.
"With as little practice time as we’ve had since the last week of January, we’ve got things that we have to work on," McCrimmon said. "(Monday) and (Tuesday) were pretty good work days for our team, which probably we wouldn’t be doing as much of this late in the season, but we needed to practise, so that was more important for us."
ONE-TIMERS: Quenneville is listed as week-to-week, but was no longer wearing his walking boot Tuesday … LW Richard Nejezchleb and D Rene Hunter are both listed as day-to-day on this week’s report, although both practised with no restrictions on Tuesday … Former Wheat Kings G Joe Caligiuri is the Canada West Universities Athletic Association third star of the week for all men’s sports. Caligiuri posted a 1.47 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage to back the Manitoba Bisons to a three-game quarter-final victory over the Mount Royal Cougars … Tonight’s game is Brandon’s rain check game for the second half of the season, with fans able to exchange unused tickets to get in.