Talk about seizing the moment.
Seeing an opportunity to become a key player for the Brandon Wheat Kings this season, Taylor Cooper took full advantage of it on the opening weekend of the Western Hockey League season, scoring four goals to lead the Wheat Kings to a home-and-home sweep of the Moose Jaw Warriors. Cooper scored three times in Brandon’s 6-3 win Friday in Moose Jaw, Sask., then netted the first goal of Saturday’s home opener, sending the Wheat Kings on their way to a 3-1 victory.
“It’s a huge year and I’m really excited for it,” the second-year forward said. “I trained pretty hard in the off-season. I did power-skating too, so it helped out a lot and it paid off on the ice.”
Cooper scored three of his goals on breakaways, including Saturday night’s marker, which was set up by a laser beam lead pass from defenceman Eric Roy.
“He’s a great skater and it was a good finish by Coop,” said Roy, who had four assists on the weekend, setting up all three of the Wheat Kings’ goals on Saturday. “The kid’s hot right now. He has four goals and you don’t want to jinx it, but he’s just going to work hard and get better every day.”
John Quenneville and Chad Robinson also scored for the Wheat Kings on Saturday, while Curtis Honey made 40 saves to earn his second victory of the weekend. Honey carried a shutout late into the third period, but Brayden Point of the Warriors broke the goose egg by scoring on a power play with only 3:43 to go.
Honey might have lost the bid earlier were it not for a quick reaction by 15-year-old defenceman Kale Clague in the final minute of the second period. Travis Brown of the Warriors centred the puck from a corner, bouncing it off of Honey before Clague swept the puck away from the goal-line, keeping Brandon’s 2-0 lead intact. Clague was sent back to the Midget AAA Lloydminster Bobcats on Sunday.
“The guy just kinda hit it off my back and I kinda looked and I thought it was going in for sure,” said Honey, who had a .950 save percentage in the two games. “And then Claguer’s cat-like reflexes I guess got to the puck before I did and managed to keep it out.”
Facing 80 shots in the two games, Honey was busy as a bee, but Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon cut his defensive unit some slack with the team playing short four veteran blue-liners for most of the weekend.
“I give our defence a lot of credit,” McCrimmon said. “We played (Friday) night with five and (on Saturday) we replaced Rene Hunter in our lineup, so each guy did the things that we needed them to do. (Riley) Van Horne and (Dominic) Thom are young defencemen that are learning the game and Clague, of course, is a 15-year-old, so that’s a pretty big stage for him. And then our veterans, (Colton) Waltz, Roy and (Kord) Pankewicz I thought really played hard, showed great leadership across the board with the way they played. I think for the most part our forwards were pretty honest defensively, which helped our defence.”
ONE-TIMERS: D Ryan Pulock remains with the New York Islanders, while Hunter (suspected concussion) was injured early in Friday’s game. Also out with injuries were D Nick Walters (knuckle, indefinite) and D Taylor Green (upper body, two weeks) … Pankewicz finished the weekend with one assist and a plus/minus of +7 … Thom had an assist in his WHL debut on Friday, while LW Brett Kitt of Brandon played his first WHL game on Saturday. Clague and RW Rihards Bukarts also got their first taste of WHL action, playing both games … Wheat Kings RW Richard Nejezchleb missed Saturday’s game due to illness … The Warriors played both games without standout D Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs camp) … Attendance Saturday was 4,404, the lowest in several years for a Brandon home opener … The Wheat Kings hit the road this weekend for games Friday and Saturday against the Prince Albert Raiders.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 23, 2013