EDMONTON — When the Brandon Wheat Kings snatched up Nolan Patrick and Kale Clague with the fourth and sixth overall picks in last year’s Western Hockey League bantam draft, they felt they had two significant building blocks to form part of their foundation for years to come.
Construction has started a little early, with both players joining the Wheat Kings for valuable playoff experience that should accelerate their development into impact WHL players. At only 15 years old, Patrick and Clague were not old enough to play full time with Brandon this season, but once their midget seasons were over, the talented youngsters were called up by the Wheat Kings and quickly put to work.
Patrick joined the Wheat Kings for the final three games of the regular season after his Winnipeg Thrashers were eliminated from the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League playoffs and has been in the lineup for all nine playoff games. Clague’s arrival was delayed by his Lloydminster Bobcats’ run to the Alberta AAA Midget Hockey League final, but he joined Brandon for the second round of the WHL post-season once the Bobcats were beaten by the Red Deer Chiefs. The dynamic defenceman sat out the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Edmonton Oil Kings, but has been in the lineup for the last three contests, including Game 5 of the best-of-seven series on Friday night in Edmonton.
“Coming in I knew it would be tough and I knew it would be a bigger adjustment, obviously, from midget,” Clague said. “It’s been everything I expected; the intensity is definitely a couple of gears up. I think the first game I was little nervous the first couple of periods, but after that I started to get used to it and I’m only going to get better from here.”
Both players have already been pretty good. While they haven’t hit the scoresheet yet, both have seen regular ice time and have displayed their potential. Patrick, a natural centre who has played mainly right wing in the playoffs, said the Wheat Kings’ advancement to the second round after upsetting the Regina Pats in the conference quarter-finals has forced him to push himself even harder.
“It’s a big jump from first round to second round,” he said. “Regina’s a great team, but Edmonton’s a lot faster and a lot more skilled up front.”
And while they haven’t been through thick and thin with their new teammates all season like they were with their midget squads, Patrick said they’re still fully immersed in the emotions and the intensity of playoff hockey.
“Obviously it wasn’t the outcome we wanted for my midget team (losing in the semifinals to the eventual league-champion Winnipeg Wild), but when we got up here, the boys made me feel at home real quick,” he said. “Obviously, no matter what team you’re playing for, you don’t want to lose.”
Clague had to wait a bit before tasting his first victory. The Wheat Kings lost their first three games against the Oil Kings, needing a dramatic 5-2 victory Wednesday at Westman Place to avoid elimination and send the series back to Edmonton.
“It’s not hard to connect (with teammates) coming into the playoffs,” he said. “It’s so emotional and I think that no matter what team you are with, when you’re in playoffs it’s a battle and it takes a lot to win, so everyone appreciates a win.”