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WHL Notebook: Wheat Kings could hit the jackpot in draft lottery

Brandon Wheat Kings fans have the rare treat of looking forward to the Western Hockey League bantam draft lottery and the playoffs all in the same week.

The draft lottery, for teams that don’t make the playoffs, takes place in Calgary today at noon (CDT), with the Wheat Kings holding the right to trade first-round places with the Saskatoon Blades, thanks to the 2012 Brendan Walker trade. With Saskatoon having finished third last in the WHL, that pick could be anywhere from first to fourth overall, with a 19 per cent chance of landing the first selection and a 76 per cent chance of choosing in the top three. Mind you that doesn’t matter much to the Blades anymore. They traded their pick to Vancouver, meaning the Giants will likely end up picking in the Wheat Kings’ spot, 10th overall.

In the seven draws since the lottery was expanded to six teams in 2007, the team that finished with the WHL’s worst record the previous season has won the lottery twice, while the second-worst team has won twice to move up to the top spot. In the last five years, lottery success has been spread out, with teams in five different slots winning to move up in the draft. Because teams can only move up two places, twice the lottery winner has not gotten the No.1 choice. Last year, the Regina Pats moved up from fourth to second in the draft, while in 2011 the Kamloops Blazers moved from sixth to fourth.

STRONG START: After signing with Tri-City last week, Strathclair’s Morgan Geekie made his debut with the WHL team on Sunday, scoring the Americans’ only goal in a 6-1 loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Annie Fowler of the Tri-City Herald reports that the 15-year-old forward, whose father Craig played in the WHL with the Wheat Kings and Spokane Chiefs, scored on a redirection of Parker Wotherspoon’s point shot.

“I thought that I had put it in,” Geekie told the Fowler. “It was a good shot by our defenceman. I had a lot of fun. I knew there was a chance I could play when I came here, but I wasn’t expecting it.”

MOVING ON: Matthew Gourlie of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald reports that assistant coach Mike Vandenberghe, a Reston native and former Wheat King, is leaving the Moose Jaw Warriors to focus on his business interests as a partner in Team Redgoat Training Centre, a hockey, cycling and fitness training facility based in Moose Jaw.

“I don’t think the coaching bug ever goes away,” Vandenberghe told Gourlie. “I’ll be doing some stuff that is going to be similar to what I do now. It’s just not going to be as intense as working in the Western Hockey League. I don’t think people understand how much time coaches in the Western Hockey League put in with all of the travel. You have to have a 100 per cent clear mind to do it. Right now I need some time to regenerate.”

AROUND THE WHL: The Regina Leader-Post reports that the WHL has cracked down on the Regina Pats for breaking league policy by closing practices this week as they prepare to face the Wheat Kings. League commissioner Ron Robison told Greg Harder of the Leader-Post the Pats would “in all likelihood” be fined … Kelowna finished the regular season at 57-11-0-4 to win the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as the WHL team with the top regular-season record. The Rockets’ 118 points were the most by a team since Calgary had 122 and Vancouver totalled 119 in 2008-09 … Spokane RW Mitch Holmberg clinched the WHL’s Bob Clarke Trophy as the WHL scoring leader on the week, finishing with 118 points. Holmberg’s 62 goals were the most by a WHLer since Layne Ulmer of Swift Current scored 63 in 2000-01 … Holmberg was joined by Portland RW Oliver Bjorkstrand, who scored five goals in the final week, and Prince George LW Todd Fiddler, who scored four in his final game, as 50-goal scorers. There were no 50-goal scorers in the league last season … Medicine Hat C Curtis Valk, who had 47 goals and 92 points this season, was named the WHL’s Ryobi hardest working player this season … Prince Albert LW Collin Valcourt has been named the WHL’s last player of the week for the regular season, posting six goals and five assists in four games … A pair of WHL D-man signed with NHL teams on Tuesday, with Vancouver’s Brett Kulak agreeing with the Calgary Flames and Medicine Hat’s Tommy Vannelli reaching a deal with the St. Louis Blues.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 19, 2014

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