With Tyler Yaworski suspended for the next six games, Kord Pankewicz is ready to step back into the lineup and contribute on the blue-line for the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Chosen by Brandon as a rearguard with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft, Pankewicz played forward in midget last season and remained up front for the first half of his rookie campaign with the Wheat Kings. When Ayrton Nikkel was dealt away and Riley Van Horne was sent to Junior A at the WHL trade deadline last month, Pankewicz changed positions once again, moving back to defence.
"I think it’s gone pretty good so far," Pankewicz said. "I’ve just got to stay more defensively (focused), not thinking offence … (Being involved in the offence) was what my job was back when I played ‘D’ in bantam and it’s a lot different knowing when to pinch and the speed of the guys."
The 5-foot-10, 197-pound native of Drayton Valley, Alta., has played his last seven games on the blue-line, picking up one assist and going even in plus/minus. But his playing time dwindled when captain Ryan Pulock returned from a wrist injury and Pankewicz has been a healthy scratch for four of the past five games.
Now, with Yaworski suspended after taking a major penalty for checking to the head in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Regina Pats, Pankewicz is expected to become a fixture in the lineup again for the next six games, starting tonight against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said he has the confidence in the youngster’s ability to handle the responsibility.
"He’s come in and he’s done very well for us," Gylywoychuk said. "He’s kept it simple, he’s played well and he’s still learning a little bit, but he’s worked hard and he’s done what he needed to do."
While Pankewicz spent the vast majority of his time before the trade deadline playing and practising as a forward, Gylywoychuk said he picked up a few things along the way that have helped make the transition smoother.
"He’s played centre before and a centreman has to work really hard in the defensive zone," Gylywoychuk said. " (The centre) actually does a lot of work right beside the defenceman, so I think he realizes that. But I think the biggest thing is that he’s got to think a little bit more, he’s got to work a little bit harder (going) back for pucks and he’s got to be able to support his partner. So those are some different things he’s got to work though in his head, but he’s adjusted really well."
Pankewicz steps into the lineup at a key point of the season. Sitting 11 points out of a playoff spot with only 18 games to go, the Wheat Kings desperately need to make up some ground quickly and they have a chance to do that with six contests remaining on a seven-game homestand.
"These are must-win games to make the playoffs," Pankewicz said. "That’s the way our mindset is right now and that’s the way it should be."
ONE-TIMERS: The WHL provided an explanation for Yaworski’s suspension, stating that Pats D Luke Fenske was injured on the hit (suffering a concussion) and that this is Yaworski’s second suspension this season. He was banned for three games after a check to the head in Vancouver in October … With G Corbin Boes (knee, indefinite) sidelined, the Wheat Kings have brought back G Jordan Papirny from the Alberta Midget AAA ranks for this week’s games … An illness has been running through the Brandon dressing room, keeping G Curtis Honey, D Eric Roy and RW Jens Meilleur out of Tuesday’s practice.