Playing in his home province against his former teammates, games in Brandon have not been just another day at the office for Brenden Walker.
But they’ve gotten a lot closer.
A three-year Brandon Wheat King, Walker played his third — and in all likelihood final — game at Westman Place as a member of the Saskatoon Blades on Wednesday night, and he said it’s gotten easier to push the distractions out of his mind each time.
"The first, second time, everything kinda hit me that I’m back in Brandon and stuff like that," said the 20-year-old forward, who was traded to the Memorial Cup hosts during the off-season. "But now it’s kinda back to business and get the job done."
The Blades have plenty of business to get done in the final six weeks of the Western Hockey League season. They are tied with the Medicine Hat Tigers for seventh in the Eastern Conference with a 25-21-0-3 record — respectable, but not the kind of record expected of a team that will compete for the biggest prize in junior hockey in just a few months.
Walker said the players have heard the chatter that the team may not be Memorial Cup material, but he said right now they have to filter out that external noise and concentrate on earning as high a seed as possible in the WHL playoffs.
"We’ve just got to stay focused and put that behind us and just play the games that we’re playing right now," he said. "But (the criticism is) a huge factor for us. There’s people saying stuff all the time, but we’ve gotta stay focused and be ready to go."
Joined in Saskatoon by former Wheat King teammate Mike Ferland, Walker has been learning to handle the spotlight and all the pressure that goes along with it. A rookie with the Wheat Kings when they hosted the 2010 Memorial Cup, Walker was expected to be one of the Blades’ key players and was handed the captaincy this season.
It’s a new role for the Ste. Anne native, but one that he says he has grown into.
"It was a tough start at the beginning — new team, new city — but I’ve learned lots and I’m still learning," said Walker, who sits fourth in team scoring with 14 goals and 38 points in 49 games. "I think I’ve become a good leader and I think I’ve just got to keep improving …
"It’s a huge role and I’m proud to be the captain of the Blades."