The Brandon Wheat Kings and Saskatoon Blades seem determined to bring back firewagon hockey.
Ryan Pulock and Richard Nejezchleb each had a goal and two assists as the Wheat Kings beat the Blades 8-5 Tuesday night at Westman Place, the second straight game between the Western Hockey League rivals that has ended with that score.
It wasn’t quite the game the Wheat Kings (32-29-6-3) wanted to play, but it was the result they were looking for, putting them in sole possession of seventh in the Eastern Conference as they try to lock up one of the final two playoff spots.
"We needed to win and we won, so the two points are important in the playoff chase," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager McCrimmon said. "If you compare it to the alternative, a loss would have been pretty devastating for our team. … I think when we went up 5-1 as easily in the second period as we did, we were never as efficient again the rest of the night. And Saskatoon, to their credit as has been their M.O. all year, they don’t go away."
John Quenneville added a goal and an assist for Brandon, while Rene Hunter, Jesse Gabrielle, Rihards Bukarts, Braylon Shmyr and Tim McGauley —who scored short-handed — also found the net. Ryan Pilon had three assists for the first three-point game of his WHL career.
For all of the scoring the Wheat Kings did, they needed good goaltending to back it up and they got that from Jordan Papirny, who made 41 saves — several of them spectacular.
"He was fantastic for us a few times," Pulock said. "He made some massive saves for us and too bad we couldn’t be a little better for him, but (it was) a win."
Chase Clayton and David Nemecek each had a goal and an assist, while Cameron Hebig, Cory Millette and Ryan Graham also had goals for the Blades (16-48-2-3), who have dropped nine straight games.
After taking a 3-1 lead into the first intermission, Brandon went up by four on goals by Nejezchleb and Shmyr early in the second.
Saskatoon starter Troy Trombley, who stopped 15 of 20 shots, was replaced by Brandon Kegler, who stopped 19 of 22 the rest of the way, taking the loss even though the Blades outscored the Wheat Kings 4-3 while he was in the game.
Early in the third period 15-year-old midget call-up Nolan Patrick, playing his first WHL game, thought he had his first goal, beating Kegler with a high shot, but the play was waved off due to a Quenneville penalty. Patrick didn’t record any points but had a plus/minus of +2 playing between Quenneville and Gabrielle.
"I thought Nolan was really good," McCrimmon said. "I liked Quenneville, Gabrielle, I thought they played well. John played the wing, which was new for him, I think just to help Nolan get adjusted a little earlier. He had a chance for what would have been a great first WHL goal in the second period of play that I don’t think he’s going to miss many times, where he had the goaltender beat and didn’t put the puck in. And then, like everybody else in the rink, thought he had his first WHL goal tonight on the real nice shot in the third period."
Next up for the Wheat Kings is a crucial home-and-home series with the Regina Pats, with Friday’s game in Regina and Saturday’s at Westman Place.
Nejezchleb said the Wheat Kings need to tighten up their play for those final two games.
"Against Regina, especially, they have good guys up front," he said. "We can’t afford to turn pucks over like tonight. I think we thought it was going to be a bit easier, but we can’t think like that."
ONE-TIMERS: Attendance was 3,252 … Brandon scratched RW Jayce Hawryluk (suspension), RW Peter Quenneville (lower body, day-to-day), RW Jens Meilleur (lower body, day-to-day) and D Kord Pankewicz … Blades D Jordan Thomson of Wawanesa played in Brandon for the first time in his WHL career and earned an assist … Saskatoon scratches included ex-Wheat King D Ayrton Nikkel, who will miss the rest of the season.