Brandon’s Tim McGauley, right, runs into Saskatoon’s Matthew Pufahl at the blue-line Wednesday. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
You’d have to look long and hard to find someone who thought the Brandon Wheat Kings would be undefeated at this point, while the Memorial Cup hosts would be below .500.
Yet that’s exactly the scenario that unfolded Wednesday night as the Wheat Kings rolled back the clock to the early 1980s with some firewagon hockey that led them to a wild 9-6 victory over the Saskatoon Blades at Westman Place.
Jens Meilleur netted two goals, including the power-play winner with 4:32 left in the third period, and added an assist. Alessio Bertaggia also contributed two goals —both of the highlight-reel variety — and an assist to the cause as the Wheat Kings improved to 3-0-0-0.
"That’s huge," Meilleur said of the victory, which came in front of a crowd of 3,310. "That’s sending a message to everyone in the WHL that we’re not a rebuilding team this year; we’re a team competing for a top spot in our conference."
Tyler Yaworski scored twice for the Wheat Kings, including an empty-netter with 17 seconds left that sealed the victory. Ryan Pulock and Nick Buonassisi added a goal and two assists, each, while Jason Swyripa scored one goal and set up another.
Perhaps more surprising than the Wheat Kings’ numbers in the win/loss column are the numbers they’re putting up on the scoreboard, with 19 goals already this season. Wednesday’s eruption was the team’s highest output since an 11-3 road win over the Prince Albert Raiders back on Jan. 7, but defensively it’s not quite what Brandon head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk had in mind.
"For sure it’s not how we wanted to play or how we have to play," said Gylywoychuk, whose team gave up a two-goal lead, including Josh Nicholls’ tying marker, which came while Saskatoon was two men down. "It wasn’t a very good team game from start to finish. We turned over a lot of pucks, we didn’t support the puck and all that. But the bottom line (is) I told the guys I hate to put a damper on a win — a win is a win; it’s two points no one can take from us — but we’ve got to learn a valuable, valuable lesson that our team game, our puck management, has got to be a lot better than it was tonight."
Josh Nicholls led the Blades (1-2-0-0) with two goals and an assist, which Nick Zajac, Lukas Sutter and Matej Stransky also scored.
Neither team managed to lead by more than a single goal until the second half of the middle frame as Swyripa scored on a power play, followed by Buonassisi’s goal on a 2-on-1 feed from Meilleur that made the score 6-4 Brandon.
Sutter scored late in the second and Nicholls’ short-handed goal, 6:46 into the third, appeared to swing the momentum. But after playing with fire all night by taking penalties, Saskatoon was burned by Meilleur, who tipped in Eric Roy’s power-play point shot for the eventual winner.
For all the flaws in Brandon’s game, Pulock was happy with the way the team pulled together after the tying goal.
"When you’ve got a couple-goal lead, and then you give up a short-handed goal like that late to tie it, it is definitely tough and brings the bench down a bit," said Pulock, whose team went 3-for-8 on the power play and killed off all three of Saskatoon’s chances. "But I don’t think anyone really got down tonight and we just kept going and we got it back. It was a great way to win."
Corbin Boes made 26 saves — including a Nicholls penalty shot in the second period —for the Wheat Kings, who visit the Swift Current Broncos on Friday. Alex Moodie and Andrey Makarov combined to make 24 stops for the Blades.
ONE-TIMERS: Brandon reduced its roster to 25 on Wednesday, sending C Ryley Lindgren, 16, to the Midget AAA Winnipeg Thrashers. Lindgren was pointless in one game for Brandon … D Colton Waltz made his season debut as Brandon dressed seven blue-liners and 11 forwards, scratching LW Geordie Maguire (lower body, indefinite), C Jayce Hawryluk (concussion, day-to-day), LW Kord Pankewicz, LW Quintin Lisoway and D Riley Van Horne … The Wheat Kings had sold 2,540 season tickets as of Wednesday afternoon … Victoria traded former Brandon RW Dakota Conroy, 18, to Prince Albert Wednesday for a seventh-round pick in the 2014 bantam draft … Calgary sent overage LW Trevor Cheek, who had 49 points last season, to Vancouver for a fourth-rounder in 2014 … Medicine Hat LW Kale Kessy was handed a mammoth 12-game suspension Wednesday for a check to the head of Lethbridge D Ryan Pilon on Saturday.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 27, 2012