The Brandon Wheat Kings opened the second half of their Western Hockey League season with the same problem that plagued them much of the first half.
Some shaky defensive play by Brandon led to three third-period goals as the Moose Jaw Warriors came from behind for a 4-3 victory over the Wheat Kings Friday night at Westman Place.
Tanner Eberle led the charge for the eighth-place Warriors (14-17-3-4), who moved five points ahead of the Wheat Kings (13-20-2-2) in the Eastern Conference standings.
"I think we needed to play a better third period to begin with," said Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk, whose team led 2-1 going into the final frame. "We didn’t start well, we got a power play early in the third where we didn’t really generate a lot and I thought that after that we weren’t good at all. We weren’t ready to compete, ready to battle and ready to play with the lead at home."
The Wheat Kings warded off some pressure from the Warriors early in the first period, including a Moose Jaw power play, and opened the scoring 4:15 into the game. Rookie Jack Palmer, playing for the first time since missing the final eight games of the first half due to an upper-body injury, stole the puck in the Moose Jaw zone and slid a shot past Warriors netminder Daniel Wapple.
Mike Ferland, assigned to the Wheat Kings by the Calgary Flames earlier in the day, had an impact in his debut, including a dominant shift in the first period. His line with Tim McGauley and Richard Nejezchleb kept the Warriors hemmed into their zone and had several outstanding chances, doing everything but put the puck in the net.
"I liked our chemistry with Richard and Timmy," Ferland said. "They’re great young players and (Wapple) made some really great saves. He had a really good game."
Wapple, who finished with 36 saves on the night, was especially big in the second period, keeping the Warriors from falling further behind despite being outshot 18-4.
In fact it was the Warriors who scored first in the middle period as Eberle deflected in Kendall McFaull’s point shot on a power play. Eric Roy put the Wheat Kings back in front with a power-play goal with 1:10 left in the frame, but Gylywoychuk said he would have loved to have gotten more out of the period.
"We had a team backed against the wall in the second period," he said. "We’ve got to learn to be able to find one more and be able to take charge."
Andrew Johnson tied the score again midway through the third, cashing in after being left alone in front when both Brandon defencemen chased Eberle behind the net. Then, Jordan Messier gave the Warriors their first lead on a wild scramble in front, during which Wheat Kings goalie Corbin Boes made five of his 29 saves before eventually being beaten.
Rookie Taylor Cooper tied the score for Brandon only 18 seconds later in a big night for the Wheat Kings youngsters, as first-year players accounted for four of the team’s five points.
"We have a really young team, so the young guys have to contribute and I think tonight we did," Palmer said.
Those efforts were undone with 4:41 to play, however, as Travis Brown notched the winner on a point shot.
Both teams finished the game 1-for-3 on the power play.
ONE-TIMERS: RW Tyler Coulter of Brandon made his WHL debut for the Wheat Kings as an affiliate player, while C Quintin Lisoway of Neepawa also played as an AP … Brandon played without LW Alessio Bertaggia of the Swiss national junior team, as well as C Jayce Hawryluk and C/LW John Quenneville, who are at the World Under-17 Challenge … The Wheat Kings also scratched D Ryley Miller (overage limit), C Tyrel Seaman (suspected concussion), LW Kord Pankewicz (flu) and D Rene Hunter (personal) … Moose Jaw scratches included Canadian junior team D Morgan Rielly and three U-17 players, C Brayden Point, RW Miles Warkentine and RW Josh Uhrich … The crowd of 4,637 was Brandon’s largest since opening night … The Wheat Kings start a three-game Alberta road trip Sunday against the Red Deer Rebels (6:35 p.m., CKLQ).