Brandon Wheat Kings head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon doesn’t believe his team will be bothered by the long bus trip to Washington when they open their West Coast road trip tonight against the Western Hockey League-leading Spokane Chiefs. (FILE PHOTO)
The Brandon Wheat Kings will start their run through the Western Hockey League gauntlet tonight.
The Wheat Kings open their West Coast road trip against the Spokane Chiefs (8:35 p.m., CKLQ) and they’ll face all five teams in the U.S. Division over the next eight days. Those teams have a combined 42-19-2-3 record this season, with four of them — the Chiefs, Portland Winterhawks, Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips — sitting in the top seven of the WHL’s overall standings.
Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said the road trip, which will also include a stop on the way home to face the Hurricanes in Lethbridge, Alta., is a key part of the team-building process, but he said the on-ice performance can’t be overlooked, either.
"The other thing we want to do is keep improving as a team," said McCrimmon, whose team is off to a 7-5-0-0 start this season. "The U.S. Division is deep and they have some very good teams, so we’ll need to play real well to have success on this trip."
The Swift Current Broncos can tell the Wheat Kings just how tough the U.S. is this season. The Broncos left home this month with a 6-3-0-1 record and came back with a sub-.500 record after dropping all five of their games south of the border.
Perhaps no game will be tougher than tonight’s. At 10-3-0-0, the Chiefs lead the WHL’s overall standings and they’re ranked as the third-best team among the three leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League.
While the Wheat Kings logged long hours on the bus to get to Eastern Washington, the club hasn’t played since Saturday and arrived in Spokane on Thursday morning, so McCrimmon believes his charges will be fresh and ready to go.
"Anytime you have a situation like that during the course of the season, you expect your team to be energized for Friday without having a game for six days and that’s exactly what I expect from our team," McCrimmon said. "Riding the bus isn’t that hard."
The rest of the trip is another matter. The sheer number of games facing the Wheat Kings in the next week and a half is daunting, but McCrimmon believes it can be managed if the purpose of the trip is kept in mind.
"I think you need to rest when there’s opportunities to rest and you need to be able to compete at a high level because teams love having a team coming in on a long trip," he said. "And really, with the travel on the trip, once we get to Spokane, the travel is better than we’re used to in our conference. … I think from that perspective, the trip lays out pretty well for us."
ONE-TIMERS: The Chiefs are captained by Killarney native Reid Gow. The 19-year-old is tied for second among WHL defencemen with 12 assists in 13 games and has a plus/minus of +11 … The Spokane lineup also includes former Wheat Kings LW Carter Proft, 19. Proft, who led the WHL in penalty minutes in 2012-13, has a goal, three assists and 30 penalty minutes this season …The Seattle Thunderbirds, who host the Wheat Kings on Tuesday, have loaded up by adding LW Jaimen Yakubowski and RW Sam Mckechnie, both 19, from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in exchange for LW Riley Sheen, 19, LW Carter Folk, 17, and a third-round pick in the 2015 WHL bantam draft. Yakubowski had 32 goals last season, while Mckechnie had 26, but both recently asked to be traded … The Wheat Kings have announced that they will hold their second annual skills day on Sunday, Dec. 1 at Westman Place, with all proceeds going to Hockey Brandon.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 25, 2013