Brandon’s Richard Nejezchleb looks for a rebound in front of Red Deer goalie Patrik Bartosak on Saturday night. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
The Brandon Wheat Kings are starting to look more like the team they want to be.
Expected to hang their hat on defence and goaltending this season, the Wheat Kings instead exploded out of the gate with four straight wins, scoring — and sometimes allowing — goals in bunches.
That changed on the weekend as the Western Hockey League club played a pair of 2-1 games, eking out a win over the Red Deer Rebels on Saturday night at Westman Place after falling by the same margin to the Portland Winterhawks on Friday.
"(Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk) harped on us all week in practice about playing better defensively and I think we did a very good job of that this weekend," said Wheat Kings centre Nick Buonassisi, who set up all three Brandon goals on the weekend, two of which were scored by defenceman Ryan Pulock in Saturday’s win over the Rebels. "We only let in three goals in two games and if you’re gonna play good defence like that, you’re gonna win more games. We’d rather play in those kind of games than those 10-8 games like the Saskatoon game (actually a 9-6 Brandon victory on Sept. 26). We’d rather play these tight-checking games and keep the puck out of our net."
Saturday night’s victory in particular is closer to what the Wheat Kings (5-2-0-0) are looking for. Goaltender Corbin Boes had a relatively quiet night, facing only 23 shots after being tested 43 times one night earlier.
"It was pretty much a full 60-minute game," Boes said of the battle against the Rebels. "It’s still only the third weekend of hockey, so we’ve still got lots of hockey to go and lots of little improvements to make, but we made pretty good strides this weekend."
One area where the team made strides was penalty killing. Entering the weekend next to last in the WHL in that category, the Wheat Kings were short-handed just six times over the course of the two games and allowed only one power-play goal, to Red Deer’s Colten Mayor. Notably, they held the Rebels in check during a lengthy 5-on-3 Red Deer power play in the second period when the game was tied.
Gylywoychuk was pleased with their progress and hopes to see more as the Wheat Kings play two more home dates this weekend before leaving on their annual West Coast road trip.
"(Penalty killing is) something that’s going to continue to get better," he said. "I think it’s going to be really big for us here heading into this weekend. I think it’s just the little things. We’ve got to continue watching video and working on it in practice. Same thing with the power play. …We’re going to generate some offence off the power play and the penalty kill’s got to change the momentum for us when they can for sure."
The Wheat Kings’ power play was just 1-for-6 against the Rebels, but provided the winner on a Pulock point shot early in the third period.
ONE-TIMERS: Bartosak made 28 saves for the Rebels … Attendance Saturday night was 3,862 … The Wheat Kings will host the Everett Silvertips on Friday and the Tri-City Americans this Saturday (7:30 both nights, Westman Place) ... Pulock’s two-goal game Saturday came on his 18th birthday ... The Wheat Kings scratched C John Quenneville, C/LW Kord Pankewicz, LW Jack Palmer, LW Quintin Lisoway and D Riley Van Horne.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 9, 2012