Let’s take a little trip back in time.
After graduating some top-shelf talent, a rebuilding Brandon Wheat Kings club, expected by many to struggle, comes roaring out of the gate by winning its first four games of the season, turning heads around the Western Hockey League and immediately raising the hopes of its fan base.
Suddenly, the team goes into a funk, gradually sliding back into the field and eventually out of a playoff position. The club sits in the middle of the pack in scoring, but shaky defence and inconsistent goaltending and special teams continue to plague the Wheat Kings. As the losses mount, the grumbling grows about the lack of visible progress the young team is making.
Does that describe this year’s Wheat Kings? Maybe so, but the paragraphs above are also an apt portrayal of the 2010-11 Brandon squad, which appeared headed for the hockey ignominy of an early golf season and a lottery pick in the draft. Instead, the Wheat Kings came to life in the second half of the season, winning 17 of their last 24 contests to finish a game above .500 and earn the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Sure, we won’t be reminiscing about that team — and its first-round playoff exit to the Medicine Hat Tigers — for decades to come. But based on the pre-season projections and where the club stood midway through the campaign, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player, coach or fan who wasn’t satisfied with the outcome.
It’s why this season’s team deserves a little patience.
With the likes of Mark Stone and Mike Ferland gone to the pro ranks and Brenden Walker traded to the Saskatoon Blades, the 2012-13 Wheat Kings were expected to go through their growing pains and that’s exactly what is happening now. And when the light switch went on two seasons ago, it happened so quickly it was hard to even recognize it at the time.
Of course as many similarities as there are between the two teams, there are just as many differences. While the 2010-11 squad lost several elite players after hosting the Memorial Cup the season before, it still had top veterans up front like Stone, Scott Glennie and Shayne Wiebe to lead the way. This year’s veteran forwards are a decidedly more blue-collar bunch. Additionally, that team was young on defence and in goal, while experience at those positions this year hasn’t helped the team keep its goals against down.
Just because something has happened before doesn’t mean it’s destined to take place again.
Only time will tell if these Wheat Kings are a dark horse getting ready to run or if they already did their best work out of the gate.
AROUND THE WHL: The NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets say D Ryan Murray, who has been playing in the WHL with Everett this season, will have shoulder surgery in the coming weeks and will miss six months … Red Deer’s Patrik Bartosak is the Canadian Hockey League goaltender of the week after going 3-0 with a 0.643 goals-against average and a .982 save percentage last week. The Rebels have won five straight games since Brent Sutter replaced Jesse Wallin as head coach … Portland C Brendan Leipsic is the WHL player of the week after totaling three goals and six assists in three games … Gregg Drinnan of the Kamloops Daily News reports that former Wheat Kings RW Jordan DePape had successful shoulder surgery on Monday and is even thinking of playing again, despite telling his Blazers teammates before the surgery that he was retiring. According to Drinnan’s story, if DePape is able to play this season his options could include returning to the Blazers if the team holds a roster spot for him, joining the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Virden Oil Capitals or the University of Manitoba Bisons.