U15 AA squad joins in on city’s success


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There’s no denying that Brandon’s cohort of 2008- and 2009-born hockey players is a special one.

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There’s no denying that Brandon’s cohort of 2008- and 2009-born hockey players is a special one.

The city has earned under-15 championships in the AAA boys and girls programs, and last week the AA squad also won a provincial title.

The AA Wheat Kings club, which was led by head coach Ryan Shields and assistants Jordan Campbell and Drayson Cowan, finished first in the Winnipeg U15 AA Hockey League with a record of 23-3 plus an overtime loss and a tie, and then went unbeaten in the playoffs, clinching the title with a sweep of Twins Orange in the final.

<p>The under-15 AA Brandon Wheat Kings pose with their banner after beating Winnipeg Twins Orange 4-1 on March 14 at Century Arena in Winnipeg to sweep the best-of-five final series. (Submitted)</p>

The under-15 AA Brandon Wheat Kings pose with their banner after beating Winnipeg Twins Orange 4-1 on March 14 at Century Arena in Winnipeg to sweep the best-of-five final series. (Submitted)

Perhaps the most unheralded of Brandon’s champions, the team featured 10 players born in 2009 in their minor seasons and eight 2008-born players in their major seasons. Incredibly, they didn’t have a single returning player so it was a group that coalesced for the first time.

“Our personality was just a hard-working team that never quit or gave up,” Shields said. “We had a lot of fun on the ice and you could see that right through everybody on our roster, that everybody was having fun the whole time, but every single person on our team showed up every game to work hard and we just outworked the opponents every game.”

Shields knew the club would be pretty good going into the year but it didn’t take long for his expectations to rise. After a month and playing a handful of games, he knew his group wouldn’t be easy to match up against.

“As the season progressed, the kids bought more and more into our systems and put the team ahead of themselves and we could really see that from each player,” Shields said. “They were more interested in winning than their own personal stats.”

The team, which skated on all five surfaces in Brandon, wasn’t blessed with an abundance of skill up front, although they certainly had players who could score. Instead, the forward group relied on out-hustling their opponents, a formula that led to a lot of success.

“We had a lot of hard workers — our leading scorer had 28 points — but every line contributed,” Shields said. “We had three lines that could go, and that’s what made us really hard to play against. We heard it all season, that nobody knew what line was going to be our best line because every game it was somebody different. We could just roll three lines every game and it tired teams out by the end of the game.”

A pair of players led the team with 28 points, Crew Elder (24 games played, 15 goals, 13 assists) and Luke Krieser (26gp, 14g, 14a), with Daylan Duncalfe (27gp, 17g, 7a, 24p) leading the team in goals. Eight players had 20 or more points, and every skater scored at least twice, signs of the team’s incredible depth.

Brandon managed 126 goals, an average of 4.5 per game that was third best in the 14-team league.

On the blue-line, Shields said the AA Wheat Kings got better and better at moving the puck, while also doing a terrific job of guarding their own net.

“As the season progressed, we developed into a team that could really skate from the back end out,” Shields said. “It took us a little bit to get everybody to buy in but we ended having six defencemen who could move the puck and could skate, and we created a lot of offence off our back end. We had some physical guys as well who created a presence out there. It was a real good mix of older guys and younger guys who played really well together.”

In goal, the team relied on the tandem of Hunter Gregory (12-0-1-1, 1.69 goals-against average) and Sawyer Wallin (11-3-0-0, 1.80 gaa).

“They were so steady for us every game,” Shields said. “We ended up in a 28-game season only giving up 49 goals. They were rock solid in net for us every game and gave us a chance to win. It didn’t matter who was in. We just rotated every game and then they were awesome for us.”

The 49 goals they allowed, an average of 1.75 per game, was the league-best by an incredible 22 goals.

“We were beating teams through sound defence more than anything,” Shields said. “We didn’t blow too many teams out. We had a lot of 4-1, 5-1 type of games: We didn’t have too many 9-0, 10-0 type of situations. Everything was kind of controlled. We were just a very opportunistic team that outworked them, and when there was a chance to score, we put it home.”

After their losses, Shields said his players responded exactly how he hoped. They took ownership of their mistakes and tried not to repeat them.

“We really just spent some time reflecting on what it was,” Shields said. “A lot of times the kids kind of knew what they did already, whether we didn’t work hard or whether we took a period off or didn’t capitalize on our chances. They knew that when we came in the room so it was a really good opportunity for us to reflect back instantly and move forward and not have that happen again.

“We had a group that really responded extremely well to that adversity and didn’t make the same mistake twice.”

The Wheat Kings carried an eight-game unbeaten streak into the playoffs, and it showed.

In the best-of-three quarterfinals, Brandon swept Twins Black 2-0 by scores of 4-3 and 3-2, then they topped the Rangers 3-0 in the best-of-five semifinals 4-2, 8-4 and 5-1. That launched them into the final against Twins Orange (21-6-1-1), who had finished just five points back of Brandon in second place.

Brandon won 4-1 in Game 1 on March 11, prevailed 1-0 in Game 2 on March 13 and earned the title with a 4-1 victory on March 14 at Century Arena.

In the clinching game, Luc Ferriera gave the Twins the lead in the first period, with Elder scoring the equalizer 16:35 into the second period. It was all Brandon in the third period, with Ty Aldcroft notching what proved to be the winning goal 4:02 into the final frame. Duncalfe added a power-play goal 13:04 into the period to make it a 3-1 game, and Ben Sveistrup scored into an empty net in the final two minutes to salt the game away.

Both teams took a single penalty each, with Gregory earning the win in net for Brandon.

“This is the second year we’ve won that AA league,” Shields said. “Last year we did the same thing and obviously you look at the U15 AAAs this year, it’s just a great development we have set up where players are getting the experience at the AA level and then moving into the AAA level the next year to continue their growth and success.”

As a condition of joining the Winnipeg league, every club had their playoff games at the same rink, which this year was in Fort Garry. As a result, they had to head into Winnipeg for every post-season matchup.

“Thankfully we didn’t lose so it was a minimum, but we came in eight times in a matter of probably 15 days,” Shields said.

It actually wasn’t the only title they won this winter.

On top of the league title, the team went undefeated at the Tournament of Champions in Brandon and also earned that banner.

“It was a phenomenal group of kids and parents,” Shields said. “It was a year a coach dreams of, to be honest. The whole coaching staff enjoyed showing up at the rink every day and the kids just completely bought into everything we did and had a lot of fun along the way.”

The team also included Gavyn Yon, captain Slade Hayden, Hunter Ethelston, Karter Hermenegildo, Ty Cowan, Addax Eagan, Ashton Shields, Brett Jackson and Owen Stanley.

While the U15 programs certainly had outstanding years, it was a terrific year for Hockey Brandon overall. The U17 team lost in the league final and the U18s finished atop the league in the regular season and fell in five games in the semifinal. Shields noted the success actually begins every younger, with the city also enjoying success in the U11 and the U13 age groups.

“Right now, Brandon is developing a lot of good teams,” said Shields, who also serves as the development director on the Hockey Brandon board. “We’re seeing a lot of success at all levels, male and female.

“It’s kind of nice for me to see the development across the board.”

» The Sun will profile the title-winning U15 AAA boys squad next week.

» pbergson@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @PerryBergson

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