Wheat Kings' General Manager Kelly McCrimmon gives directions to his players during a pre-season practice at Westman Place on Thursday afternoon. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
Let’s face it. By the time the Western Hockey League’s regular season begins, tonight’s pre-season opener for the Brandon Wheat Kings will be all but forgotten.
With rookie-laden lineups and standings that will be wiped out just two weeks from now, pre-season games are designed to be anything but memorable over the long run.
In the here and now, however, these games happen to have tremendous significance for many of their participants. These games are chances for rookies who have dreamed of the WHL for years to prove that they finally belong and for returning veterans to demonstrate to their coaches that they’re ready to take on additional responsibility.
The Wheat Kings host the Moose Jaw tonight (7:30, Westman Place) before wrapping up the weekend home-and-home series by visiting the Warriors on Sunday.
With veteran defencemen Ryan Pulock (New York Islanders), Eric Roy (Calgary Flames) and Nick Walters (St. Louis Blues) all away at National Hockey League camps, second-year Wheat King Colton Waltz looks at this weekend as a chance to show he’s capable of being a leader on the blue-line.
"You’re always going to take it as a new opportunity," said the 18-year-old, who steadily carved out a larger and larger role last year as a rookie, producing three goals, seven points and 48 penalty minutes in 62 games. "You kinda want to show the young guys coming in the ropes too, and lead by example and that’s what I plan on doing."
Of the 34 players still on the Wheat Kings roster, 17 are rookies, some of whom saw regular-season action last year, some of whom have never played as much as an exhibition game before. With that in mind, Waltz said one of the keys is to focus on the fundamentals.
"I think you want to keep things simple," he said. "There’s some young guys here still learning the systems and obviously the game’s not going to be quite as fast (as a regular-season game). You want to make simple plays, get the puck moving up the ice as fast as you can."
Braylon Shmyr, a 16-year-old rookie forward, is among the Wheat Kings preparing to make his WHL pre-season debut, although he did play a regular-season game in January, scoring a goal in his hometown of Calgary.
Shmyr showed impressive skill during the Wheat Kings’ training camp, but at 5-foot-8 and 156 pounds, he said he’s got to continue to make plays when the going gets tougher.
"I’ve got to have a good start to the pre-season to make a good impression," said Shmyr, who was chosen 12th overall in the 2012 WHL bantam draft. "I’m going against older guys, bigger guys than me, so I’ve just got to keep it up and play my game out there."
ONE-TIMERS: Moose Jaw hasn’t played since opening the pre-season Aug. 27 with a 5-4 loss to Swift Current … The pre-season wraps up next weekend with Brandon hosting Regina on Friday, Sept. 13, then visiting them the next night … Brandon’s regular-season debut will be Friday, Sept. 20 in Moose Jaw, Sask. The Wheat Kings will play their home opener one night later against the Warriors … Kamloops has acquired LW Tristan Sieben, 19, from Vancouver for a seventh-round pick in the 2016 bantam draft.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 6, 2013