Ice top Wheaties again
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The Winnipeg Ice won their eighth game in a row against the Brandon Wheat Kings, beating the visitors 4-1 on Sunday at Wayne Fleming Arena.
Connor McClennon, Evan Friesen, Zach Ostapchuk and Owen Pederson all scored for Winnipeg (52-9-1-0) in front of an announced Western Hockey League crowd of 1,753, with Nate Danielson replying for Brandon (26-29-8-0).
Brandon head coach and general manager Marty Murray said his team actually played well for long stretches.
“I thought our five-on-five game was pretty good,” Murray said. “It was a pretty good game and I thought we did a pretty good job for the most part. I think the two biggest things I’ll leave here tonight saying is that the special teams, they scored two power-play goals and we don’t get any, and the other piece is that (Winnipeg netminder Daniel) Hauser played well, but with a smaller goalie, we need to get more traffic on him. We did it in the third period where we got a screen and we ended up scoring.
“It’s not rocket science. We need to get to the front of the net, especially against smaller goalies.”
Brandon didn’t lose any ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race with the loss. They remain tied for eighth place with the Swift Current Broncos (28-29-1-3) and the Calgary Hitmen (26-27-5-3), but Swift Current has one game in hand and Calgary has two.
The Wheat Kings, who have five games remaining, return to action on Wednesday when they visit Connor Bedard and the Regina Pats at the Brandt Centre. They host the Prince Albert Raiders on Friday at Westoba Place and visit the Saskatoon Blades on Saturday, then finish up with a season-ending, home-and-home series against the Ice on March 24 in Brandon and 25 in Winnipeg.
On Sunday, Winnipeg opened the scoring 14 seconds into their first power play midway through the first period on a pretty touch pass by Ostapchuk to McClennon, who was set up back door for a one timer he blasted by Brandon goalie Carson Bjarnason.
The Ice extended the lead five minutes into the second period when Friesen fired a shot on the short side past a screened Bjarnason.
Brandon was handed a 35-second, two-man advantage in the second period and didn’t do a lot with it, but the Ice capitalized again on their next power play when Ostapchuk scored after Brandon failed on an attempt to clear the puck.
Pederson added a goal on a rebound just 41 seconds later and the game was essentially over late in the second period.
Oddly, Brandon actually outshot Winnipeg 15-11 in the middle frame.
“I thought we had some good looks,” Murray said. “If you look at the box score, they won the second period 3-0 but I thought for a good portion of the period that we did some really good things. They’re a team that plays off momentum and they got the second one and then got two quick ones, bang, bang, so we went from having a pretty good period and having some success and playing the way we wanted to play to being down four goals real quick.
“That’s the hard part against a team with that high-octane offence. You give them a little bit and they smell blood. It’s up to us to stop the momentum.”
Brandon finally hit the scoreboard 1:47 into the third period when Kayden Sadhra-Kang fired a shot at Hauser, and when the netminder lost track of the puck, Danielson tapped it into the Winnipeg net to make it 4-1.
Three minutes later, the Wheat Kings handed the Ice an incredible opportunity with a 96-second, five-on-three man advantage, and Winnipeg patiently moved the puck around but were unable to convert on their red-hot power play.
Brandon went 0-for-2 on the power play, with Winnipeg scoring twice in five chances.
“That’s huge against a team like this,” Murray said. “We took one retaliation penalty and a couple where we got sticks into feet and a hooking penalty in the first period that ended up in our net. Those are big things and big arts of the game obviously.”
ICINGS: Brandon skated without forward Brett Hyland (lower body, indefinite) and Roger McQueen (lower body, day to day), plus healthy scratches Matt Henry, Eastyn Mannix and Zach Turner … Winnipeg was without injured forwards Zach Benson and Carson Latimer, plus defenceman Wyatt Wilson, the older brother of Wheat Kings forward Tony, who is nursing a lower-body injury … Nolan Ritchie led the Wheat Kings with seven shots on net … The game took two hours, 17 minutes to play … In the faceoff circle, Winnipeg won 32-23 … Bjarnason made 24 saves for the Wheat Kings, with Hauser stopping 30 shots for the Ice.
» Twitter: @PerryBergson