As a relatively young team that didn’t make it to the Western Hockey League playoffs last year, the Brandon Wheat Kings don’t have a great deal of post-season experience to take into their first-round series with the Regina Pats.
That will elevate the importance of those who have been to the playoffs, particularly early in their Eastern Conference quarter-final, which begins Saturday in Regina.
As a team, the Wheat Kings have 67 games of WHL post-season experience spread among eight players. Blue-liners Ryan Pulock and Eric Roy and forward Jens Meilleur lead the way with 15 games each. That trio, plus defenceman Rene Hunter, have been to the post-season twice, including two years ago when the Wheat Kings upset the Calgary Hitmen in the first round before losing to the eventual champion Edmonton Oil Kings.
"I think I’ve just got to go out there and be a leader, lead by example," said Roy, who finished the regular season on a roll with two goals, nine assists and a plus/minus of +5 in his last 12 games.
"You know playoffs is a lot different hockey; you’ve got to prepare for it more than you would in the regular season, but it’s an exciting time. I know all the guys are excited for it, and I can’t wait."
The Pats, who also missed the playoffs last year, have more post-season experience than the Wheat Kings, but not by a wide margin. Regina has 10 players with a collective 99 games of experience — 56 of those from 20-year-olds Boston Leier and Jesse Zgraggen, who served their playoff stints with other teams before joining the Pats this season.
While Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon acknowledged the importance of playoff experience, he noted that execution on the ice is ultimately what matters. And he said the benefits of playing in the post-season accumulate quickly.
"You learn on the fly," said McCrimmon, whose team went 34-29-6-3 during the regular season to finish eight points behind the Pats (39-26-4-3). "I think that’s what makes playoffs such a valuable development tool for players and for teams is it’s a different experience than anything you receive during the regular season.
"The teams that have long playoff runs are teams that really improve their stock for the following season with the development that players have gained in that situation."
While Peter Quenneville is in his first WHL season after leaving Quinnipiac University to join Brandon, the Wheat King forward believes that winning the United States Hockey League title with the Dubuque Fighting Saints last year helped him during the final weekend of the regular season and will continue to do so in the playoffs.
"The one thing I like to think about in the big game is you’ve got to play with emotion, but you don’t want to be (overly) emotional," said Quenneville, who had five goals and two assists to lead the Wheat Kings to back-to-back wins over the Pats last weekend. "And so that allows you to stay even-keeled while still feeding off the energy of the crowd. You know early on last Saturday night (when the Wheat Kings beat the Pats 6-3 at Westman Place), the energy of the building and the speed and tempo early on was incredible. If you can’t feed off that, you don’t have a pulse."
ONE-TIMERS: Rookie Brandon LWs Tyler Coulter and Brett Kitt took a turn on defence during Wednesday’s practice, with D Ryan Pilon and D Kord Pankewicz both sitting out the session … Former Wheat Kings G Jacob DeSerres of the University of Calgary was named Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s men’s hockey goalie of the year on Wednesday … The Kelowna Rockets were ranked No.1 in the Canadian Hockey League’s final regular-season rankings.