EDMONTON — Confident that they did some things right in the opener of their second-round playoff series and knowing full well that they did some things wrong, the Brandon Wheat Kings welcomed the chance to catch their breath and reflect on both on Friday.
The Edmonton Oil Kings blitzed the Wheat Kings early in a 5-0 victory on Thursday night in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal.
Typically in the Western Hockey League, Game 2 would follow the very next day, but with a concert slated for Friday night at Rexall Place, the teams instead practised at NAIT’s arena and Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon believes the extra time between games was good for his charges.
"We had a good skate today," said McCrimmon, who will lead the Wheat Kings in Game 2 of the series this afternoon (12:30, CKLQ) at Rexall Place. "I thought guys worked hard, our execution was good. I’ve always found when you come off a loss, getting that first practice under your belt is a little bit cleansing for you. Now our focus is straight ahead for (the second) game."
Red-hot in a first-round sweep of the Regina Pats, the Wheat Kings’ trio of John Quenneville, Jayce Hawryluk and Jesse Gabrielle was — like the rest of their teammates — held in check on Thursday. Edmonton head coach Derek Laxdal used his line of Curtis Lazar, Brett Pollock and Edgars Kulda against Brandon’s most dangerous unit and they did a fine job, but Quenneville believes it can still be a good matchup for the Wheat Kings.
"Edmonton’s a hard-working team and I think our line played pretty well (Thursday) night," said the Edmonton native, who has three goals and six assists in five playoff games. "We had some good chances, but not nearly what we should have, and I think it comes down to work ethic. If we want to score goals, we’ve got to work harder than the line and defence pairing we’re playing against."
Also looking for a bounceback in Game 2 is Brandon goaltender Jordan Papirny. Another Edmonton native, Papirny made 40 saves, including some quality stops that kept the game close after the Oil Kings jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but he also allowed a couple of goals he’d like to have back.
"We didn’t get some bounces our way, but I think one of my strong points is my ability to bounce back," said Papirny, who has a 3.40 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage in the post-season.
"I have confidence in myself, and I know all the guys in (the Brandon locker-room) have confidence in me to bounce back."
The Wheat Kings fell behind 2-0 in the first two minutes, 25 seconds of Thursday’s game, but felt they played their best hockey of the night in the final half of the first period and the first half of the second frame before Edmonton scored on a power play to make the score 3-0 and effectively put the game out of reach. Especially against a team as defensively stout as the Oil Kings, who allowed the fewest goals in the WHL this season, McCrimmon said the Wheat Kings must start better to avoid falling behind again.
"I think when we play these games, we need to be looking to win 3-2 and that’s the type of game that you’re going to be in with Edmonton," he said. "And based on that, we have to have a better start than what we did (on Thursday)."
ONE-TIMERS: The only Wheat King not to practise yesterday was G Curtis Honey (upper-body injury), who was replaced in the session by 16-year-old midget call-up Logan Thompson … Stopping in to watch part of practice was Elkhorn’s Sherri Bowles, who captained the NAIT Ooks to their second straight Alberta college title this season. On Thursday, Bowles won the women’s hockey program’s Silver Torch Award as the athlete who has contributed the most to the team … Brandon will host Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday at Westman Place, with tickets available at wheatkings.com or by calling 204-726-3555. They will also be on sale at the Keystone Centre box office starting Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m.