The time for on-the-job training and moral victories is over for the Brandon Wheat Kings.
If the local Western Hockey League club is to have any hope of making the playoffs, it’s going to take genuine, point-earning wins — and lots of them — from here on in.
Occupying last place in the Eastern Conference with an 18-29-2-2 record, the Wheat Kings are 11 points behind the eighth-place Saskatoon Blades — who hold the final playoff spot — heading into tonight’s meeting between the teams at Westman Place.
With eight of their next nine games at home — and eight of nine against squads that could potentially be fighting for that eighth spot — it’s quite simply now or never for the Wheat Kings.
“This is basically our last push, I think, with how far we’re falling back,” Wheat Kings captain Ryan Pulock said. “But I think there’s a lot of things in our favour right now with the amount of home games that we have coming up and the teams that we play that we’re trying to catch right now.”
What’s not in Brandon’s favour is time. If the top eight teams continue to perform at the pace they’ve maintained so far, the Wheat Kings would need 73 points just to get into a tie for eighth place.
Even if a couple of those teams drop off, it’s most likely going to take a bare minimum of 70 points — or the equivalent of a 15-6 record down the stretch — to get the job done.
With the Wheat Kings having been outshot 234-138 over their last five games, a deficit of nearly 20 shots per contest, something needs to change for a run like that to happen.
“I think we’ve got to be much better in our team game and that starts in our defensive zone,” Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said. “I think we’ve got to cut down on the chances and the shots against, first and foremost. If we play good defence, it’s going to lead to playing good offence.”
If the Wheat Kings can find a way to pull off that miraculous comeback and make a 13th consecutive appearance in the playoffs, the dark cloud that has hovered over the team for much of the season will be gone and forgotten. Even an inspired push that falls just short will at least breed hope for the future and show that this season’s efforts haven’t been in vain.
The key is finding the effort to squeeze every possible point out of the remaining 21 games.
“I just think we have to be prepared every night and treat each game like a playoff game because I think that’s where we’re at right now,” Pulock said.
“I think guys just have to refocus and look at what we can still do and focus on that.”
AROUND THE WHL: Everett has likely lost D Ayrton Nikkel for the rest of the season after the former Wheat King suffered ligament damage in his finger during a fight on Saturday … The WHL’s discipline department has been busy the last few days, hitting Lethbridge and Edmonton with fines totalling $2,250 on Tuesday stemming from a Sunday brawl that included a goalie fight between ex-Wheat King Ty Rimmer and Laurent Brossoit. On Monday, Victoria D Tyler Stahl, the Royals’ captain, was banned eight games — his third suspension of the season — for a hit to the head in Friday’s game against Vancouver, while Calgary GM Kelly Kisio was fined $500 for comments to officials following a Friday game against Lethbridge. Meanwhile, a total of $1,000 in fines were levied against Swift Current and Moose Jaw for a Saturday brawl, while Broncos C Graham Black was suspended two games for a check to the head earlier in the same contest … Edmonton C Henrik Samuelsson is the WHL player of the week after notching two goals and eight assists in four games, including three helpers in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Brandon.