The Brandon Wheat Kings’ goal of grabbing a share of first place in their division looked like it was in serious jeopardy for much of Friday night.
The Wheat Kings trailed the East Division-leading Swift Current Broncos by two goals with five minutes to go in the second period before roaring back for a 6-5 Western Hockey League victory at Westman Place. With the win, the Wheat Kings (24-17-4-0) moved into a tie with the Broncos (23-17-2-5) atop the division, with Brandon holding a game in hand.
"We had some real shaky starts, the first and second (periods), and we knew we had to have a good third period coming into the final stretch there, but I don’t think we ever doubted our ability to come back," said Peter Quenneville, who led Brandon with a goal and three assists. "We’ve scored a lot of goals this season and we established ourselves as one of the best offences. So I think we were positive and we had that confidence and I think it’s a big step for us to be able to come back from behind against a team like Swift."
Tim McGauley scored the winning goal and added two assists for the Wheat Kings, who broke out with three goals in the third period. Captain Ryan Pulock also had a goal and two helpers, while Ryan Pilon added a goal and an assist, with Richard Nejezchleb and Jesse Gabrielle rounding out the Brandon scoring.
Graham Black scored twice for the Broncos, with Coda Gordon and Jay Merkley picking up a goal and an assist each. Former Wheat King Geordie Maguire also found the net for Swift Current, which struck twice in the first 2:17 of the game.
After Merkley and Maguire got the Broncos out of the chute with their rapid-fired goals only 51 seconds apart, Quenneville got the Wheat Kings back to within a goal before the end of the first period.
The Broncos twice got the lead back up to two in the second period, but both times the Wheat Kings responded. Gordon scored only 30 seconds into the middle frame, with Nejezchleb responding 21 seconds later.
Swift Current’s next two-goal lead, courtesy of Black’s first of the night, stood for nearly 10 minutes, but Gabrielle gave Brandon some life going into the third period by scoring on a one-timer of a Jayce Hawryluk setup with 4:23 remaining in the second.
"We were down two goals on two occasions (in the second period) and both times I thought (scored) real big goals to not fall behind by three," Wheat Kings head coach/ general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "Gabrielle’s goal allowed us to go into the intermission one down and gave us a chance. The one thing we’ve done a pretty good job of is playing well in the third period at home here," McCrimmon said.
Brandon did that once again Friday, firing 19 shots in the third at Swift Current goalie Eetu Laurikainen, who had a 36-save night.
Pulock joined the rush and went to the net, converting a pinpoint pass from Tyler Coulter to tie the game. Brandon got its first lead just as a 4-on-3 power play expired, with Pilon parking in front of the net off a faceoff and depositing the rebound of Pulock’s blast from the point.
Only 1:08 later, McGauley made it a two-goal game with a power-play marker that proved to be crucial as Black scored once again with 5:11 to go and the Wheat Kings held off a late charge, backstopped by Jordan Papirny, who finished with 28 saves.
While the Wheat Kings now have the inside track on first place in the East Division, which guarantees a seed in the top two for the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, they still have four games left against the Broncos, plus the Regina Pats lurking only a point back.
"Obviously our goal lately is to get to the top of our division and this game tonight was a big game and to get the win was huge," said Pulock, whose team visits the Saskatoon Blades tonight (6:35, CKLQ). "But it’s just one win and we’ve got to keep winning here down the stretch and keep improving, keep playing good hockey leading into the playoffs."
ONE-TIMERS: Attendance was 3,366 … With a full healthy roster to choose from, Brandon scratched D Kord Pankewicz, LW Brett Kitt and LW Braylon Shmyr …Maguire made his debut with Swift Current after being acquired from the Regina Pats at last week’s trade deadline … D Julius Honka played his first game with the Broncos since winning gold with Finland at the world junior championship.