TIM SMITH / BRANDON SUN
Ryan Pulock of the Brandon Wheat Kings leads his line in a drill during practice at Westman Place on Thursday afternoon.
As the Brandon Wheat Kings returned to the ice Thursday for the first time after a lengthy layoff to prepare for the second half of the Western Hockey League season, general manager/head coach Kelly McCrimmon was trying to instill a sense of urgency.
While the players were trying to get their legs back under them for the first time in 12 days at Westman Place, McCrimmon knows how important it is for the Wheat Kings to come back from their time off ready to go.
Brandon (18-14-3-0), which earned seven points in its last four games, begins a tough stretch tonight when it hosts the Regina Pats (18-14-2-2) at Westman Place at 7:30. On Saturday, the Wheat Kings will head to Regina to begin a road trip in which they will play four games in six days.
"These are real big games coming out of the break, going home-and-home with Regina in our first two games and we’re separated by a point right now," McCrimmon said. "So a four-point game (today) and the same thing Saturday. It’s really important we hit the ground running right out of the Christmas break."
The good news for the Wheat Kings is that they’ll have forward Richard Nejezchleb back in the lineup. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Nejezchleb spent his break away from the team trying out for the Czech junior national team. Although he felt he had a good tryout, he didn’t make the cut and was back in Brandon skating on a line with Jayce Hawryluk and John Quenneville on Thursday. Jesse Gabrielle was on that line before the break, but he’s away with Team West at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
Although Nejezchleb would have liked to be playing for his country at the world junior hockey championship right now, he admitted he enjoys the WHL style of hockey more and is glad to be back in the Wheat City.
"For sure, I’m glad to be back here," said Nejezchleb, who leads the team with 19 goals and is third with 27 points. "Now I know why I like the style of hockey here way better than in Europe. … Here it’s quicker, it’s tougher and that’s what I like. The European kind of hockey and the system we had on the national team, I didn’t really like it."
While the Wheat Kings are getting an experienced player back, young centres Tanner Kaspick and Duncan Campbell are expected to make their WHL debuts as call-ups.
Both Brandonites have had solid seasons with the Brandon Midget AAA Wheat Kings. Campbell, 17, leads the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League with 25 goals and 59 points, while Kaspick, who’s 15, is third in league scoring with 43 points and has scored 19 goals. The pair practised on different lines on Thursday.
For Kaspick, tonight’s game will be a dream come true.
"It’s very exciting," he said. "It’s a team I grew up watching and I’ve been cheering for this team. To be with the team is a huge honour and I’m excited for the opportunity."
As was expected after a long layoff, it took a little bit for the Wheat King players to get back into the groove at practice.
But captain Ryan Pulock feels that they’ll be ready for the Pats.
"You could tell the first two or three drills there were a few missed passes, but after having 11 days I think that’s expected," he said. "We kept working through it and guys are starting to get that feeling back and by the end of practice it felt more like normal."
ICINGS: Brandon will also be without LW Braylon Shmyr, who is at the World U17 Hockey Challenge with Team Pacific … C Nolan Patrick, who was called up from the Midget AAA Winnipeg Thrashers, won’t dress tonight as he’s still recovering from an injury suffered in his last weekend of action before the break in the Manitoba AAA Midget league. McCrimmon didn’t rule him out for joining the Wheat Kings on their road trip … The Pats are without LW Maximilian Kammerer (with Germany at world junior championship) and D Brady Reagan (Team Pacific at the U17 World Challenge).
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 27, 2013