Slow start sinks Wheat Kings, hurts playoff chances


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REGINA – The Brandon Wheat Kings (26-30-8-0) quest for a spot in the 2023 Western Hockey League playoffs took a hit on Wednesday night. 

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REGINA – The Brandon Wheat Kings (26-30-8-0) quest for a spot in the 2023 Western Hockey League playoffs took a hit on Wednesday night. 

The Regina Pats (32-27-3-1) raced out to a three-goal lead in the first period and withstood a late comeback bid by the Wheat Kings on their way to a 6-3 win over their East Division rivals at the Brandt Centre. 

In addition to suffering their second straight loss, the Wheat Kings are now two points out of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference after the Calgary Hitmen cruised to a 7-1 triumph over the Lethbridge Hurricanes. 

Brandon remains tied for ninth with the Swift Current Broncos, who dropped a 3-2 decision to the Saskatoon Blades on Wednesday. 

After the game, Wheat Kings head coach and general manager Marty Murray was less than pleased with his team’s effort, especially in the first period. 

“That was unacceptable,” Murray said. “We gave up three goals with loose pucks onto our net and they wanted it more. It’s tough to come back in this league when you fall behind like that. 

“We looked a step behind tonight for sure. We looked tired and exhausted and they outplayed us from the get-go.” 

Wednesday’s win was a big one for Regina, as they snapped a four-game losing skid and inched closer to earning their first post-season berth since 2018. 

For Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock, it was another step for the team as they continue to learn what it takes to do well come playoff time. 

“Obviously we’re an offensively-minded group, but those guys have to tweak things a little bit,” Paddock said. “The playoffs start right now and we’re seeing that with how (Brandon) pushed back at the end. 

“I liked a lot of our game (Wednesday) and how we kept things simple. That’s not to take away from any creativity, but it’s about knowing when to make those plays at the right time.” 

The Pats opened the scoring on an odd play at the 5:51 mark of the first period, as Stanislav Svozil fell while crashing the net but somehow found the puck and pushed it past Wheat Kings netminder Carson Bjarnason. 

The officials originally waved the goal off but overturned their initial decision after a discussion and a video review. 

A couple of minutes later, Brayden Barnett pounced on a loose puck in front and beat Bjarnason for his second of the campaign. 

Regina made it 3-0 just past the halfway point of the period when Connor Bedard’s pass bounced around in the slot and ended up on the stick of Tanner Howe, who easily found the back of the net. 

Howe recorded his second goal of the night midway through the contest while the Pats were on the penalty kill. Shortly after Drew Sim turned aside Nolan Flamand on the first quality chance of the night for the Wheat Kings, Riley Ginnell worked his way up the ice and made a great pass to Howe to extend the hosts’ lead to 4-0. 

Brandon finally responded at the 11:38 mark of the middle frame when Joby Baumuller scored for the second time in three games since being called up from the Notre Dame Hounds under-18 program. 

“He’s a 15-year-old and he has been one of our better forwards during the last couple of games,” Murray said. “That’s something to be excited about going forward, but we need more of our guys that have been around here for a while to step up.” 

Regina extended their lead back to four goals late in the second period as Braxton Whitehead intercepted a Luke Shipley pass and found Bedard, who had just exited the penalty box. 

The Pats’ captain raced down the ice on a breakaway and tucked a shot under Bjarnason’s glove for his 62nd goal of the campaign, becoming the first WHL player to reach that mark since Jayden Halbgewachs scored 70 times for the Moose Jaw Warriors in 2017-18. 

Zakhar Polshakov made it a 5-2 game early in the third and Nolan Ritchie cut Regina’s lead down two late in the frame on rebound plays, but that was close as the Wheat Kings would get as Bedard sealed the win with an empty-net marker. 

Bedard led the way for the Pats with two goals and two assists, while Tanner Brown dished out a pair of helpers and Sim made 27 saves. 

Andrei Maylavin recorded a pair of assists for the Wheat Kings. Bjarnason turned aside 14 shots in the first two periods before being relieved by Nick Jones, who blocked five shots in the final 20 minutes. 

The Wheat Kings return to Westoba Place tonight as they take on the Prince Albert Raiders. They visit the Saskatoon Blades on Saturday and wrap up their regular season slate with a home-and-home series with the Winnipeg Ice next weekend. 

ICINGS: Eastyn Mannix, Zach Turner, Roger McQueen, Evan Groening and Brett Hyland did not dress for the Wheat Kings on Wednesday, while the Pats were without the services of Omen Harmacy, Carter Herman, Tye Spencer, Zack Stringer and Jaxsin Vaughan … At the end of the game, Wheat Kings forward Matt Henry whacked Sim in the pads with his stick, nearly dropped the mitts with fellow Prince Albert product and landed a punch on Sim after shimmying away from an official that was trying to wrap him up. Henry received minor penalties for roughing and slashing for his actions, along with a 10-minute misconduct … The Pats took four out of six meetings over the Wheat Kings this year and won the season series for the first time since the 2017-18 campaign … Bedard, who is expected to go first overall at the NHL draft in June, has recorded 21 points in 13 games against the Wheat Kings since he joined the league in the 2021 hub season. 


» Twitter: @lpunkari 

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