There’s precious little time for the Brandon Wheat Kings to catch their breath after arriving home Thursday morning following three road games in four days.
Having lost all three games on the trip, the Western Hockey League club will try to get back on track tonight, facing the Kootenay Ice at Westman Place (at 7:30) in the first of two straight home games against the Central Division club.
By the time the final buzzer brings an end to Saturday’s game, the Wheat Kings will have played five games in a week. They’ll play four more times next week and are in the midst of a stretch of 11 games in only 18 days.
But sitting one point behind the East Division-leading Swift Current Broncos, the Wheat Kings have a job at hand and head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon doesn’t plan on using the gruelling schedule as an excuse.
"It’s a busy stretch and there’s nothing that we can do about that," said McCrimmon, whose team is tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 28-22-6-1 record. "We need to work our way through it. … We’ve got two games at home this weekend, Friday and Saturday. That’s as far ahead as our focus goes really. Kootenay’s week has been similar to ours in that they played Tuesday, Wednesday as well, so I don’t think that there’s any disadvantage in that regard."
The biggest question facing the Wheat Kings tonight is the health of two of their better offensive threats. Slovakian winger Rihards Bukarts missed the entire road trip, while top-scoring centre John Quenneville left Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes with an upper-body injury.
McCrimmon said both players are out day-to-day and will be re-evaluated today after getting treatment on Thursday.
Sitting three points behind the Ice (31-22-2-2) in the conference standings, the Wheat Kings could move up at least a spot with a sweep, but they’re facing a team that is 10-2 in its past 12 games, although Kootenay did lose 3-2 on Wedneday in Regina.
"Their top line has been exceptional and not just Sam Reinhart," McCrimmon said. "Jaedon Descheneau is one of the best scorers in the league and I think a real key player on that team, probably a little underrated in terms of what he means to the their team. They’re strong in goal and they’re well coached, so they’ll be a good challenge for us. From our standpoint, we’ve played well at home. We neeed to use home ice to our advantage, and they’re big games for our team."
ONE-TIMERS: The Wheat Kings have won eight of their last 10 home games, but only two of their past 11 road contests … Reinhart is on a 15-game point-scoring streak (13 goals, 21 assists), the second-longest active streak in the WHL behind Medicine Hat C Curtis Valk’s 16-gamer (13 goals, 12 assists) … The Ice defence includes Brandonite Landon Cross and Virden’s Landon Peel. Cross hasn’t played in Brandon since Dec. 16, 2011.