There is a subtle difference between being eliminated from playoff contention and eliminating yourself.
The Brandon Wheat Kings will try to avoid doing the latter when they host the Swift Current Broncos tonight and if they pull it off, they’ll postpone the former for at least a couple of days.
With nine games left to play, Brandon sits 18 points behind seventh-place Swift Current and 17 points back of the eighth-place Kootenay Ice in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.
A regulation loss tonight would guarantee the Wheat Kings miss the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons, while a regulation win would allow them to go to bed clinging to a mathematical — albeit unrealistic — chance at the post-season.
The Wheat Kings aren’t kidding themselves about their chances of making the playoffs, but winning some games, starting tonight against the Broncos, would be the easiest way for them to face their impending fate.
"This late in the season I think we’re just trying to win games," Wheat Kings captain Ryan Pulock said.
"There’s still a lot to play for. Every guy has something to play for. Just because you’re on the team this year, it doesn’t mean you’re playing here next year. Every guy has to bring their full effort these last few games and obviously we’re going to try to win every game that we have left."
At 21-37-3-2, the Wheat Kings are in danger of posting their worst record since going 11-55-6 way back in 1991-92. They need 12 points in their last nine games to match their 25-38-4-5 mark from 1999-2000, which is the last time the team missed the playoffs.
Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk doesn’t want his team focused on past performances and this year’s dim outlook. He’d rather they expend their energy on doing what they need to do to get past the Broncos tonight.
"I think that the only people that seem to be bringing (the playoffs) up is the media, so we’ve got to make sure that we worry only about the game," said Gylywoychuk, whose team is coming off of a 6-1 loss to the Broncos in Swift Current, Sask., on Sunday. "I think it’s in the back of everybody’s head. It’s what everybody looks at at this time of the year. … I think for us we’ve got to worry about how the Brandon Wheat Kings are going to play. We didn’t have a very good team effort in Swift Current, so I know that it’s something we’re trying to correct this week."
Sunday’s loss was Brandon’s fourth in a row and seventh in the past eight games. Pulock said the culprit has been a common theme for the Wheat Kings this season.
"I think the biggest thing is just work hard," he said. "I think there’s been times in games that we’ve shown some pretty good things when we work hard, but then when we get away from hard work we fall apart."
ONE-TIMERS: The Wheat Kings shuffled their lines once again for Tuesday’s practice … LW/RW Richard Nejezchleb is listed as day-to-day as he recovers from a severe cut on his hand, although he has yet to take part in the regular portion of a practice … C Tyrel Seaman (concussion) remains out indefinitely ... After tonight, the Wheat Kings hit the road to play three games in three nights this weekend, their last multi-game road trip of the season.