BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Brandon Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon explains a drill to a group of his players this week in practice.
Don’t expect Cory Clouston or the Brandon Wheat Kings to participate in any media mudslinging as the Prince Albert Raiders’ new bench boss prepares to face his former team for the first time tonight.
Cory Clouston, new bench coach for the Prince Albert Raiders.
Clouston was fired after a single season as the Wheat Kings’ head coach, having guided the squad to a 39-28-1-4 record and a second-round Western Hockey League playoff appearance — a solid performance on the surface but one that fell short of expectations for a talented, veteran squad.
Now Clouston is back in the coaching game with the Raiders and the Wheat Kings who played for him two years ago say the games tonight and tomorrow (both 7:30, CKLQ) are simply business as usual for a pair of 2-0 teams.
"I think it’s going to be fun," said defenceman Eric Roy, who had four assists to help the Wheat Kings open the season with back-to-back wins against the Moose Jaw Warriors. "Clouston was a good coach here, but nothing changes. We’ve just got to go out and play our game and hopefully come out of there with four points."
Jens Meilleur holds a similar outlook.
"(Facing Clouston) doesn’t change anything," said the overage winger, who has a goal and two assists this season. "I’m going to play the same, I’m going to work the same and I’m sure all the other guys that played for him are going to do that as well."
The Raiders opened the season with a sweep of the Saskatoon Blades, earning the third spot in the Canadian Hockey League Top 10 rankings this week, and Clouston said he’s more interested in what his team is doing than reliving any issues with the Wheat Kings.
"Obviously, I’m familiar with a few of their players, but right now it would be no different if another team came in," he said. "We’re just trying to focus on our game plan and trying to make sure that we’re still improving. … Most of our attention is with us, not with Brandon right now."
The Raiders are at full strength with first-round National Hockey League draft pick Josh Morrissey back from camp with the Winnipeg Jets and ready to serve as the team’s captain. The Wheat Kings are still missing defenceman and captain Ryan Pulock, another first-rounder who is still with the New York Islanders, but have some veterans close to returning on the blue-line as Taylor Green, Nick Walters and Rene Hunter, who were sidelined by injuries in the opening week, are all practising without restrictions.
"(The Raiders are) one of the top-ranked teams in the CHL, so it will be a real stiff test," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "Both games are in their building and guys are looking forward to the opportunity to play a good team and I’m sure they’ll be competitive games."
While Prince Albert presents a good measuring stick for the Wheat Kings as they try to bounce back from last season’s last-place finish, Clouston said the Raiders are also looking to take a step forward. Prince Albert was one of the top teams in the league at the Christmas break last year before fading in the second half, and Clouston said he believes the pieces are in place for a more consistent season.
"So far we’ve been happy with the way things have gone," he said. "We’ve still got a lot to work on, as I’m sure every other team does at this time of the year. But we like our chemistry, we’ve got a really good group of guys to work with and we’ve made some big strides in the last couple weeks."
ONE-TIMERS: Single-game tickets for the remainder of the Wheat Kings’ home games this season go on sale this morning at the Keystone Centre box office … The Calgary Flames have assigned former Wheat Kings LW Mike Ferland to Abbotsford of the American Hockey League.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 27, 2013