It wasn’t the winning goal, but it was close enough for Brenden Walker.
The former Wheat King scored with 4:54 left in the third period to break a 4-4 tie and the Saskatoon Blades went on to a 7-5 Western Hockey League victory over Brandon Tuesday night at Westman Place.
"It was huge," said Walker, who was traded to Saskatoon in the off-season and lost his first game back in Brandon in September. "I’ve been dreaming about it. That was huge. I’m speechless. It’s a big win for us and I couldn’t be happier right now. It’s exciting and we’re getting back up in the standings here. We’re regrouping and it’s looking good."
Two minutes after Walker’s marker, Ryan Graham was given credit for the goal that turned out to be the game winner. Rookie Logan Harland scored twice, while Matej Stransky had an empty-net goal and two assists as the Blades (16-14-0-1) won their third straight game. Darren Dietz and Nathan Burns also scored for Saskatoon. Walker added an assist for a two-point night, giving him nine points during the winning streak.
Richard Nejezchleb netted two goals for the Wheat Kings (11-18-2-2), while Jayce Hawryluk had a goal and three assists. Ryan Pulock and Nick Buonassisi added a goal and an assist each.
With leading scorer Alessio Bertaggia away at the Swiss world junior team camp, generating offence was supposed to be Brandon’s big concern, but instead it was defence as the Blades directed 53 shots at the Wheat King net.
"It starts in our own end," Buonassisi said. "We’ve got to get better at defence, first. We can’t let in seven goals again."
The Wheat Kings’ two games against the Blades this season — the first was a 9-6 Brandon win — have resulted in 27 goals.
Hawryluk said there was no intention of getting into a run-and-gun game against the Memorial Cup hosts, instead saying that the Wheat Kings simply have to pay more attention to their own game.
"(The Blades are) a good offensive team, everyone knows that," he said. "I think guys just weren’t working as hard as they could in the defensive zone. I think they were more thinking on the offensive side, which we can’t be doing. If we work hard in the defensive zone, I think we’re going to get rewarded in the offensive zone."
Leading 2-1 after the first, the Blades stretched the lead to 3-1 midway through the second before the Wheat Kings battled back on goals by Hawryluk and Buonassisi. Harland and Nejezchleb traded goals in the third before Walker jumped on a rebound to put the Blades up for good, followed by Graham’s goal that made it 6-4.
"I thought as the game went on we got better," Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said. "Then late in the game we made two miscues, we missed coverage two times and the puck’s in the back of our net."
Nejezchleb scored with 35 seconds left to play and the Brandon net empty, but the Wheat Kings left goalie Corbin Boes on the bench for the ensuing faceoff. The Blades got control of the puck and Stransky wristed a shot in from centre ice to clinch the victory.
"We had something set up at the faceoff and we thought we were going to try something and it didn’t work," Gylywoychuk said.
Boes ended up making 46 saves on 52 shots, while Blades goalie Alex Moodie was busy himself, with 35 saves. Brandon was 2-for-6 on the power play, while Saskatoon went 2-for-5.
Brandon hosts Moose Jaw on Friday (7:30 p.m., Westman Place) before hitting the road for its final two games before the Christmas break.
ONE-TIMERS:Buonassisi broke a 14-game goal-scoring drought …Attendance was 3,778 … Brandon called up LW Quintin Lisoway from Steinbach of the MJHL, and scratched Bertaggia, C Tyrel Seaman (suspected concussion), C Tim McGauley (suspected concussion), LW Jack Palmer (upper body) and D Rene Hunter (personal) … Saskatoon scratches included No.1 G Andrey Makarov (Russian junior camp) and D Kyle Schmidt (upper body). The Blades called up C Drake Bodie from Waywayseecappo of the MJHL and backup G Patrick Johnson from Melfort of the SJHL.