TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Captain Ryan Pulock and the Brandon Wheat Kings hope to head out on their U.S. road trip on a winning note.
When the Brandon Wheat Kings leave for the West Coast of the United States next week, they’d like to do so with the memory of a home-ice victory fresh in their minds.
The Wheat Kings play their last home game in three weeks tonight against the Medicine Hat Tigers at Westman Place and, going into a tough trek through the highly competitive U.S. Division, Brandon captain Ryan Pulock said they can use all the momentum they can get.
"I think this is a really big game for us," said the 19-year-old defenceman, who has three goals and five assists in eight games since being returned to the Wheat Kings by the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders. "Obviously, we want to get some momentum going on the road here. We have quite a long stretch on the road, so I think (tonight) is a key night for us to have a solid game throughout and gain some momentum."
Gaining anything will be a challenge against the Tigers, one of the top teams in the Western Hockey League this season. The Tigers entered their game Friday in Regina against the Pats with a 7-1-1-0 record, tying them for first in the Eastern Conference.
At 6-5-0-0, Brandon has been up and down through the early stage of the season, often during the same game. Head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon said he’s looking for the team to remain on task throughout tonight’s game.
"A sixty-minute effort will be key for us, for a couple reasons: Medicine Hat’s a good team, but any night you want a sixty-minute effort," he said. "And I think we’ve had a few games here where, at the end of the night, we’ve been real happy with some of the things that we’ve done, but we haven’t done them from start to finish, so that will be key for us. We’re ready to play and looking forward to the challenge."
McCrimmon said the Wheat Kings need the influence of their leadership group and to focus on their preparation to develop those consistent efforts that have been elusive so far, and he believes the club is taking steps in that direction.
With 11 goals in their previous five games, not including the shootout winner in their Oct. 11 victory over the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Wheat Kings are also looking for ways to generate more offence. They showed some progress in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Warriors, but even then were stuck at a single goal until Pulock scored with 16 seconds remaining in the third period to force OT.
Second-year forward Jayce Hawryluk believes it’s only a matter of time until the goals come, as the players get more comfortable with the systems and each other.
"It’s huge, following the systems we have," said Hawryluk, who has two goals and seven assists in 11 games. "You’ve got to be in position, wherever you’re playing, the (offensive) zone, the (defensive) zone, the neutral zone. It’s huge, and also just gaining chemistry with your linemates is huge as well."
ONE-TIMERS: The Wheat Kings will wear pink jerseys for tonight’s Pink the Rink fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. The game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off, with two others to be raffled away at the game. Two of the jerseys have already been auctioned, with Pulock’s fetching $3,100 Friday … Brandon had all 25 players take part in practice Friday, with LW Jack Palmer, who has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury, skating without restrictions … The Wheat Kings open their road trip Friday, Oct. 25, vs. the Spokane Chiefs and will play all five U.S. Division teams before facing the Lethbridge Hurricanes on the way home … After tonight, Brandon won’t play at home again until Friday, Nov. 7 vs. the Saskatoon Blades … The Lethbridge Herald reports that LW Jaimen Yakubowski and RW Sam Mckechnie, who finished 2-3 on the Hurricanes in scoring last season, have left the team while waiting to be traded.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 19, 2013