Brandon Wheat Kings' Jens Meilleur fires a puck in Saturday night’s ‘Pink the Rink’ game. Meilleur will join the rest of the team today for the final West Coast road trip of his Western Hockey League career. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Jens Meilleur will board the bus with the rest of the Brandon Wheat Kings today for the final West Coast road trip of his Western Hockey League career.
As luck would have it, it also happens to be the first trek through the U.S. Division for the 20-year-old forward from Elie. A fourth-year WHL veteran, injuries prevented him from going on the annual odyssey in his first two seasons in the league, and the Wheat Kings only visit the U.S. Division once every two years, alternating between trips south of the boarder and excursions through the B.C. Division.
"It’s really exciting, my first U.S. trip obviously, and it’s going to be exciting to see what the U.S. has to offer," said Meilleur, who plays right wing on the Wheat Kings’ checking line with Chad Robinson and Quintin Lisoway.
"I think these are the best experiences of your junior career. Everyone looks forward to them. It’s just you and the boys, so you can’t go wrong there."
The Wheat Kings will leave this afternoon and travel all night to Spokane, Wash., 1,600 kilometres away, where they will open the trip against the WHL-leading Chiefs on Friday (8:35 p.m., CKLQ). Much has been made of the rigours of WHL travel and spending all night on a bus isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a Wheat King player who hasn’t been looking forward to this day since the beginning of the season.
"Everyone always says that it’s super fun, a lot of team bonding," rookie centre Ryley Lindgren said.
"Obviously, it’s going to be a great experience and I just want to make the most of it and see how everything goes and just try and get some wins out there."
Lindgren’s longest trips in midget hockey were eight-hour jaunts up to Thompson when his Winnipeg Thrashers would visit the NorMan Northstars.
This trip is well beyond that or anything else the team will face this season. Brandon’s biggest trip previously was in the second week of the regular season when the Wheat Kings visited the Prince Albert Raiders for a pair of games. This time around, the team will cover nearly 4,000 km, playing six games.
They’ll also face some intense competition. The five U.S. teams entered Tuesday’s games with a combined record of 39-19-2-3. Even when you throw in a stop on the way home against the Lethbridge Hurricanes — the WHL’s last-place team this season — the Wheat Kings’ six opponents have an impressive combined mark of 41-29-2-4. Considering the quality of opposition and the fact all six of those games will come in a 10-day span, this trip is sure to be a stiff test for the 7-5-0-0 Wheat Kings.
"I think we’ve just got to be consistent," said Lindgren, who has played all 12 of the Wheat Kings’ games this season, centring a rotating cast of wingers on the fourth line. "I think we’re playing pretty strong right now. We’ve got to keep that energy going through those games."
The key to that, said Meilleur, is to not let the fun aspects of the trip overshadow the job at hand.
"Just take care of yourself," he said. "It gets to be a long trip and you get pretty tired pretty quick, so just take care of your body and be ready for a grind."
ONE-TIMERS: The Wheat Kings have all hands on deck for the trip, with all 25 players taking part in Tuesday’s practice, including RW Jayce Hawryluk, who missed the third period of Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Spokane Chiefs (10-3-0-0)
Distance from Brandon: 1,590 km
Top Scorer: Mitch Holmberg (16 goals, 16 assists, 32 points)
Top Goalie: Eric Williams (1.76 GAA, .933 pct.)
Noteworthy: Defenceman Reid Gow of Killarney is off to a great start as the captain of the Chiefs, with 12 assists and +11 plus/minus rating.
CKLQ Broadcast Time (CDT): 8:35 p.m.
Tri-City Americans (5-8-0-1)
Distance from Spokane, Wash: 226 km
Top Scorer: Brian Williams (9-5-14)
Top Goalie: Eric Comrie (2.80, .921)
Noteworthy: If the Americans continue to play sub-.500 hockey for the rest of the season, it will be their first time missing the mark since 2005-06.
CKLQ Broadcast Time: 8:35 p.m.
TUESDAY, OCT. 29
Seattle Thunderbirds (9-3-0-1)
Distance from Kennewick, Wash.: 360 km
Top Scorer: Mathew Barzal (3-13-16)
Top Goalie: Danny Mumaugh (3.26, .911)
Noteworthy: The game will be the first for Brandon defenceman Taylor Green against his old team since being acquired from Seattle in August.
CKLQ Broadcast Time: 8:35 p.m.
WEDNESDAY, OCT. 30
Portland Winterhawks (7-3-0-1)
Distance from Kent, Wash.: 256 km
Top Scorer: Nicolas Petan (7-16-23)
Top Goalie: Brendan Burke (3.59, .895)
Noteworthy: With former Brandon University Bobcats captain Mike Johnston back from last season’s suspension from his head coach/GM duties, the Winterhawks are chasing a fifth straight 90-point season.
CKLQ Broadcast Time: 8:30 p.m.
FRIDAY, NOV. 1
Everett Silvertips (8-2-2-0)
Distance from Portland, Ore.: 325 km
Top Scorer: Joshua Winquist (8-7-15)
Top Goalie: Austin Lotz (1.74, .935)
Noteworthy: Dealt to the Wheat Kings by the Silvertips at January’s trade deadline, Nick Walters will return to Everett for the first time since the move and very possibly the last time in his WHL career.
CKLQ Broadcast Time: 9:05 p.m.
SUNDAY, NOV. 3
Lethbridge Hurricanes (2-10-0-1)
Distance from Everett, Wash.: 1,089 km
Distance back to Brandon: 987 km
Top Scorer: Tyler Wong (6-6-12)
Top Goalie: Corbin Boes (4.59, .898)
Noteworthy: Traded to the Hurricanes during this year’s WHL bantam draft, Boes has gotten a workout in Lethbridge, facing as many as 62 shots in a game and more than 40 shots seven times.
CKLQ Broadcast Time: 2:30 p.m.
Statistics do not include Tuesday’s games.
Driving distances based on Google Maps.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 23, 2013