An era came to an end in Saskatoon on Tuesday when the Blades declined to offer head coach Dave Struch a new contract and bumped Lorne Molleken out of the general manager’s office.
The move was not particularly surprising, given the Blades’ 16-51-2-3 record this season and the general consensus that new owner Mike Priestner — whose son, James, is a former Brandon Wheat Kings goalie — would want to put his own people in place.
Still, it will be strange to see the new-look Blades come to Westman Place next season after that franchise’s recent history has been so closely entwined with that of the Wheat Kings.
In the 10 seasons since Molleken returned to Saskatoon in 2004-05 as the team’s head coach and general manager, the Wheat Kings and Blades have combined to win six East Division pennants, three by each club. And while Brandon has a long-lasting rivalry with Regina, during the two-year leadup to the 2010 Memorial Cup held at Westman Place there was no team in the Western Hockey League that made the Wheat Kings’ blood boil quite like the Blades. Their struggle culminated with their heavyweight tilt in the second round of the 2010 playoffs when Brandon emerged victorious in a six-game serious that featured five contests decided by a single goal.
While the rivalry between the teams has cooled since then, it was replaced by a relationship that has been perhaps even more interesting as seemingly every time Molleken and Wheat Kings general manager Kelly McCrimmon picked up the phone, a blockbuster deal followed. Interestingly, their handiwork over the past three years has ‘buyer beware’ written all over it:
• Jan. 10, 2011 — The Wheat Kings sent star centre Brayden Schenn and a bantam draft pick to the Blades for prospects Tim McGauley, Ayrton Nikkel and a bevy of draft picks that Brandon turned into starting goalie Jordan Papirny and Jayce Hawryluk. Schenn averaged nearly two points per game as a Blade, but Saskatoon was swept out of the second round of the playoffs.
•Oct. 16, 2011 — The Wheat Kings acquired power forward Darian Dziurzynski from the Blades for three draft picks. Dziurzynski was a key player for Brandon, but went -19 here as the Wheat Kings had a disappointing season.
• May 3, 2012 — The Wheat Kings sent Brenden Walker to the Blades, essentially recouping much of what they gave up in the Dziurzynski trade, but also gaining this year’s pick swap, which will allow Brandon to move up and use Saskatoon’s first overall selection in the bantam draft.
• Jan. 10, 2013 — The Wheat Kings sent homegrown power forward Mike Ferland to the Blades for a first-round pick in last year’s draft that Brandon leveraged to move up and select blue-chipper Kale Clague. Ferland and Walker, acquired for the Blades’ own turn as Memorial Cup hosts, were point-a-game players in Saskatoon, but the team was bounced from the first round of the playoffs and managed only a single win in the Cup.
AROUND THE WHL: The WHL announced this week that the Pats were required to pay a $500 fine for closing practice to the media early last week … Seattle G Taran Kozun is the Canadian Hockey League goalie of the week after posting a 1.00 goals-against average and a .970 save percentage to lead the Thunderbirds to wins over the Everett Silvertips in the first two games of their playoff series.