Wheat Kings prepare for Chiasson’s return
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The Brandon Wheat Kings will be facing a popular ex-teammate tonight for the first time as the Saskatoon Blades visit.
Jake Chiasson will make his return to Westoba Place exactly three weeks after he was sent to the Blades on Jan. 10 for a first-round Western Hockey League pick in 2023, a second-round pick in 2025 and a conditional second-round pick in 2026 if he plays as an overager next season.
Wheat Kings forward Rylen Roersma, who is in his third season with Brandon, said Chiasson was a well-loved teammate.
“It’s going to feel like playing against a brother,” Roersma said. “Everybody treated him like a brother and he treated everyone like a brother. He was fair to everybody. That’s the kind of family we have here. It’s going to be really weird to see him on the other end of things.”
During his long career in the game, Brandon head coach and general manager Marty Murray had plenty of chances to play against friends and former teammates. A memorable instance came during his time with the Wheat Kings.
“My best friend when I was with the Wheat Kings was Todd Dutiaume and he got traded down the road to Moose Jaw,” Murray said. “It’s different playing against a good friend. I’m sure both sides are looking at it as conducting themselves in a professional manner, business first, and then I’m sure they’ll have a good talk after the game.”
Still, most of the players are teenagers and emotions can run high, but Murray doubts he’ll have to address it in the dressing room.
“Jake is a great kid,” Murray said. “He was very well liked here by his teammates in Brandon. I’m sure it will be an awkward game for everybody but they’re mature enough and will treat it like a game. I’m sure a lot of them are playing against their friends on a nightly basis, so it’s part of the game.”
Chiasson, who missed much of his 18-year-old season with a shoulder injury, had 30 goals, 51 assists and 32 penalty minutes in 141 career games with the Wheat Kings, with 28 points in 37 games this season. A product of Abbotsford, B.C., Chiasson was Brandon’s top pick in the 2018 draft, going 15th overall.
“Obviously I’m sad with a lot of things,” an emotional Chiasson said the day he was traded. “The memories I’ve made in Brandon have been some that I can’t even put words on to describe. There are so many different guys I became close with and friendships I’ll have forever.”
In nine games in Saskatoon, Chiasson has a goal, five assists and four penalty minutes.
Third-year defenceman Logen Hammett said that behind the scenes, Chiasson did everything right.
“He’s a great guy,” Hammett said. “He’s always talking to everyone, it doesn’t matter who you are, he’s always good about that. He’s an easy guy to talk to too, which is what made him a pretty good leader in our room.”
Hammett has played against lots of friends over the years, and while he expects Chiasson will bring his best tonight, it will be a weird situation that has to be handled correctly.
“You just have to play your game,” Hammett said. “It will be in the back of your head anyway that you know that guy and have been with him most of the year, but it’s not too hard to block out during the play. (After the whistles), there might be a little laugh when you look at him.”
The swift-skating Blades have been a handful for the Wheat Kings this season, beating them twice in Brandon — 5-3 on Oct. 7 and 4-1 on Nov. 5 — and 5-4 in overtime on Dec. 6 in Saskatoon.
The teams still have two meetings at the SaskTel Centre remaining, on Feb. 5 and March 18.
“They’re a fast, skilled team with a lot of really quick forwards up front and some pretty good defenders as well,” Roersma said. “We’re just going to have to match their pace and play our fast game too because that’s what we can bring to the table as well. It’s going to be a hard-fought battle but I think we can come out on top.”
In the season series so far, Winnipegger Conner Roulette has three goals and five assists in the three games against Brandon, while Trevor Wong has five assists in three games and Belarusian forward Egor Sidorov has three goals and an assist in two games.
Both Saskatoon goalies have played, with Austin Elliott beating Brandon twice and Ethan Chadwick earning one win.
“They’re good,” Murray said. “They play a really fast-paced game. Their D are very active, they skate well and their forwards are as deep as anybody. They’re a really good team and we’ll have to give it our best.”
Brett Hyland and Nolan Ritchie each have four points in the season series, but Brandon’s leading goal scorer was Chiasson, who had three against his new club. In net, Nick Jones has two losses and Carson Bjarnason has one.
Brandon is currently in a stretch when it plays the top three teams in the East Division — the Winnipeg Ice, Moose Jaw Warriors and Saskatoon — four times in a 10-day span. Despite the level of competition, Brandon finds itself desperately in need of points.
With 23 games remaining in its season, Brandon (19-21-5-0) is in 10th place in the 12-team Eastern Conference, three points back of the Regina Pats and Medicine Hat Tigers, and four behind the Swift Current Broncos.
Saskatoon, meanwhile, has dropped into fourth place in the conference with a record of 29-11-3-1, one point back of the Warriors (30-15-0-3), but the Blades hold four games in hand.
Both teams will have plenty to play for, not counting bragging rights with the newest Blade and former Wheat King.
“I think all the guys really appreciated having him in the room,” Roersma said of Chiasson. “He was a great guy, one of those leaders who you can come up to and talk on a bad day. Everybody really misses him.”
ICINGS: Fifteen-year-old Brandon prospect Gradey Hope of Kelowna, B.C., joined the team at practice on Monday and will be around until Feb. 12. The six-foot-one, 174-pound defenceman, who signed with the club on Jan. 26 after being drafted in the fourth round in 2022, is playing with the Canadian Sport School Hockey League’s Okanagan Hockey Academy. He will join Team B.C. at the Canada Winter Games, which will be held in Prince Edward Island from Feb. 18 to March 5 … Winnipeg skates into Westoba Place on Friday at 7 p.m., and the Wheat Kings visit Saskatoon on Sunday at 4 p.m.
» Twitter: @PerryBergson