The Brandon Wheat Kings and Swift Current Broncos could be a little sick of each other by the end of this week.
The Wheat Kings and Broncos — both currently in a four-way tie with the Saskatoon Blades and Moose Jaw Warriors for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference — will face each other in three straight games over the next five nights. The mini-series begins tonight (6:30 CKLQ pre-game show) in Swift Current, Sask., before the battle moves to Brandon on Wednesday (7 p.m.) and concludes with a Saturday night clash back in Swift Current.
There’s plenty at stake as the injury-ravaged Wheat Kings (10-13-2-1) try to keep from sliding out of playoff position and look to turn around a recent slide in which they have lost six of their last seven games.
“For sure, it’s a divisional team that we play against and when you play a team three times like that, it’s unusual,” Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said. “But it’s the way the schedule was laid out and they are all going to be important games. We need to get as many points as we can right now and we want to continue to get better and continue to grow as a team.
“Swift Current is a team that is right there with us in the standings and it adds a little bit more of a dynamic to it ... I think it’s going to add a little bit to it where you are playing against the same guy for nine periods. But I think we’re worried about just the first game, we’re going to be worried about the Brandon Wheat Kings and go from there.”
The Wheat Kings were swept in a home-and-home series by the Prince Albert Raiders over the weekend while playing without their top two players in team scoring leader Alessio Bertaggia (14 goals, 27 points in 23 games) and captain Ryan Pulock (nine goals, 25 points in 24 games), as well as veteran forwards Tyrel Seaman and Jens Meilleur. Bertaggia (lower-body injury) practised fully on Monday and should return tonight, while Pulock (upper-body injury) was back on the blue-line, but only took part in non-contact drills and is not expected to play tonight.
“(Pulock) is probably going to be out, it’s kind of a day-to-day thing,” said Gylywoychuk. “He may (play) on Wednesday, but we don’t know for sure.”
Neither Meilleur (lower-body ailment) nor Seaman (upper-body issue) skated yesterday and Gylywoychuk said he is not expecting them to return this week.
“The game of hockey is about injuries and they happen and it’s an opportunity for some other guys to step up and lead the team and fill some of that void,” Gylywoychuk said.
“And it’s also an opportunity for some of our young guys to step in and play some predominant roles and that’s what we’re looking for.”
ICINGS: Brandon begins the week sitting 15th out of 22 teams in power-play percentage (17.6) and dead last in the league in penalty killing (71.4) ... The Wheat Kings will also face the Medicine Hat Tigers on the road on Sunday night.