For all the scoring threats the Regina Pats possess — with four point-per-game players — perhaps what makes them most dangerous is their pride.
The Pats were the surprise team in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference this season, bolstered by a series of key deals by general manager Chad Lang and the coaching of first-year bench boss Malcolm Cameron to finish first in the East Division after missing the playoffs last season.
“I think our guys are really proud of the fact that nobody picked us to make the playoffs this season,” said Cameron, whose team hosts the Brandon Wheat Kings tonight (7:30 CKLQ pre-game show) to open their best-of-seven conference quarter-final.
“We started out 1-5 and obviously we had to dig our way out of that and scrape and claw and try and earn respect certainly everywhere around the WHL. And the guys just have a belief in each other that we can win hockey games, and they believe in our structure and they believe in their teammates. That’s all you can ask for as a coach is the guys to stick together and play hard.”
The Pats have earned a reputation for playing hard and it has shown in the club’s second-half performance, which has included a 20-10-2-1 record going back to Jan. 1.
Like the Wheat Kings, the Pats love to skate and they can also put the puck in the net, scoring 257 times to rank seventh in scoring in the WHL — Brandon was fifth with 271 goals. Cameron said that how Regina goes about generating its offence is different from Brandon, though.
“We get a lot of offence up front from guys in (Chandler) Stephenson, (Dyson) Stevenson and (Morgan) Klimchuk and Boston Leier and Connor Gay and Dryden Hunt, all 20-goal-scorers or close to it,” he said. “A little different in how we generate offence: Brandon’s obviously starts with the back end and the way their ‘D’ jump into the play and make it hard for you to defend, and we rely a little bit more maybe on our forwards.”
The Wheat Kings actually have seven 20-goal scorers — tied for the league lead — compared to the Pats’ five, but Regina has four 30-goal scorers to Brandon’s one.
The differences in blue-line offence may be overstated as well, with both teams featuring four 30-point producers on the back end, although the Pats don’t have an offensive blue-line force to match Wheat Kings captain Ryan Pulock.
Just who the Pats will have available for the start of the series remains to be seen as well, with Stevenson, who led the team with 38 goals, hoping to make a return from a broken hand at some point, while top-four blue-liners Kyle Burroughs and Colby Williams missed the end of the regular-season as well. Perhaps the most troubling absence for Regina would be Daniel Wapple, who took over as the No.1 goalie after being acquired from the Medicine Hat Tigers at the WHL’s trade deadline, but suffered an ankle injury late in the season.
With teams rarely starting and finishing a series with the same lineup of healthy players, Cameron said he’s not reading too much into the injury situation for now.
“You’re going to see these things in a playoff, especially if a series goes long,” he said. “You’re going to end up seeing possible injuries and illness and all these things that happen, so I never worry. I coached in the minors for 10 years where my lineup changed every single day and you could never plan around having a lineup. So I honestly don’t get too stressed out about it. I only coach the guys that are available to play, and you don’t worry about the ones you can’t coach.”
ONE-TIMERS: C Rylee Zimmer of Russell played 44 games with the Pats as a 16-year-old rookie this season. He did not record a point, posting a plus/minus of -5 and picking up four minor penalties. He’s gone +3 since the Christmas break.