It’s never wise to read too much into exhibition games, but Brandon’s newest hockey team certainly be tempted to anyway.
The under-15 AAA girls Wheat Kings played their first two games in team history on the weekend, emerging with 5-0 and 11-2 victories over the Pembina Valley Hawks.
Karissa Kirkup, who is entering her first season as a head coach and wasn’t well acquainted with the players entering the program, was understandably heartened by what she saw.
"It was very happy with the way they played," Kirkup said. "Regardless of the score, they were playing hard, they were playing as a team and I was very happy to see that."
The entire roster is comprised entirely of Brandon girls, with eight 2007-born players in their major year, and nine 2008-born players in their minor seasons.
"When I was looking at those birthdays, it was a pleasant surprise," Kirkup said.
The Brandon team is AAA, but they play in the Hockey Winnipeg’s AA league because that’s what it’s classified in the city. The Wheat Kings will skate at the Keystone Centre arenas until the new rink in the city’s southwest corner opens later this winter and becomes their primary host.
The team originally had an identification camp scheduled for early spring, but that was pushed back due to COVID-19 restrictions. They finally hit the ice on July 5-6, with the girls then attending their own separate hockey schools.
Tryouts took place Sept. 13, 14 and 16 at Westoba Place with a mixture of drills and intrasquad games. Last Thursday they had another intrasquad game and then played twice on the weekend.
Final cuts were made after Saturday’s game.
They had 22 girls show up for tryouts, and cut five players to pare down to a final roster of 17.
Kirkup and her two assistant coaches, Amanda Coey and Sheridan Oswald, are all freshly out of the university game, and were keying on certain traits.
"Competitiveness was a big one for all three of us," Kirkup said. "We’re looking for overall good people to be on our team, because that’s main focus. We want the lessons in hockey to be able to reflect back into their lives, whether that’s in school or other extracurricular activities they’re involved in.
‘We’re definitely looking for speed and willingness to learn for sure. I think we have a good balance and mix of players on our team."
The team also has Amy Doerksen involved in a program support role.
If the exhibition games were any clue at all to what lies ahead, scoring may be spread across the lineup. While Sydney Sass led with eight points (five goals, three assists), Haley Blaine (3g, 2a), Madison Blaine (2g, 2a), Shayla Scinocca (0g, 3a) and Paige Crossley (2g, 0a) were among the other big contributors. In fact, eight different players scored and points came off 12 different sticks that made the final cut.
"We have a deep lineup of forwards," Kirkup said. "I would say there is lots of talent up front, but then it’s a nice balance on defence, including Devyn Moncur, the Blaine twins (Haley and Madison). I could list something positive and a good ability of every player on our team because everybody is bringing something unique."
The U15 squad has good size and speed, a pair of important building blocks. They were also relentless in their puck pursuit.
"Whenever the other team had the puck, we would automatically get a player on her or two or however many it took," Kirkup said. "We would outnumber them, and seemed to really like playing a puck possession game. We got lots of shots … We came to play."
Just two goalies tried out, Jazlyn Magee and Kateri Mills, and each had a start on the weekend.
"I would say they both got tested but they both rose to the challenge and were able to play under pressure and stay calm," Kirkup said. "Whenever I looked back, they were calm and seemed confident and I really like that in a goalie because it somewhat sets the tone for the rest of our team."
The Westman Wildcats are also running their U15 program again, although with the loss of the Brandon girls means they’ve made it a double roster team that will see players also skating with their hometown teams.
As a result, the Wheat Kings and Wildcats will play exhibition games and may meet at showcase, but they won’t be playing league games against each other.
The Yellowhead Chiefs program wasn’t affected.
Kirkup said it will be important for the team to spend some time getting to know each before the season begins. She will ultimately measure success in a couple of ways.
"I know we’re a new program but every player and all the coaches involved are competitive people," Kirkup said. "I don’t think we’ll have issues with that. We’re going to have to practise and every week give it 100 per cent whenever we can.
"There are lot of unknowns going into this season right now but if we just show up at the rink and give nothing less than 100 per cent, I’m going to be happy regardless."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson