Brandon’s Ayrton Nikkel battles Kelowna’s MacKenzie Johnston in last season’s meeting at Westman Place on Dec. 13, 2011. (FILE PHOTO)
Ayrton Nikkel will wear the black and gold of the Brandon Wheat Kings in his hometown for the first time tonight.
Nikkel and the Wheat Kings continue their West Coast road trip with their first stop in British Columbia, against the Kelowna Rockets (8:30, CKLQ). It’s a visit that happens only every two years, so it’s the first time the sophomore defencemen has played in Kelowna since joining the Wheat Kings, although he played there two years ago as a 15-year-old Saskatoon Blades call-up before being traded to Brandon later in the season.
"It’s not really nervewracking anymore now that I’m in the league, but it’s still pretty special, playing in front of my parents," said Nikkel, 17.
A number of his friends back home also play junior hockey, which will cut down the number of buddies in the crowd tonight, although Rockets goaltender Jackson Whistle is another Kelowna native who played with Nikkel at the Pursuit of Excellence hockey academy. Nikkel also knows Tyson Baillie, Jesse Lees and Damon Severson, who will be among his opponents tonight.
"Nothing really changes though, (it’s a) no friends on the ice kind of thing," Nikkel said.
"It’s just another game, you know. It’s another game in the league and it’s a big two points for us to get on the road. I’m not going to do anything special, just play my game."
The Wheat Kings enter the game with a 1-1-0-0 record on the road trip and a 6-4-1-0 mark overall this season.
While they’ve had a solid start to the Western Hockey League season, defensive play has been a sore spot for the Wheat Kings, with 44 goals against in 11 games, including six in each of their last two contests.
Nikkel, who has one assist and a plus/minus of -7 to go along with his 22 penalty minutes, hopes the club can improve that aspect of its game with some focus on the fundamentals tonight.
"We’ve just gotta calm down here," he said. "We have (had) a couple days off here to regroup, watch some video of our games and I think we’ve just got to settle down in our own end and get some D-zone figured out, and just bear down in our own end.
"If we take care of the D-zone first, then the offence will come."
ONE-TIMERS: Locked out by the National Hockey League, former Wheat Kings Jordin Tootoo and Wade Redden, who make their off-season homes in Kelowna, took the team out for supper on Thursday and practised with them on Friday … New assistant coach David Anning is slated to join the Wheat Kings in Victoria tomorrow, with the team set to face the Royals there on Tuesday.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 20, 2012