Sunday, 26 April 2015

Another Hometown OT Hero for Wheat Kings

The Wheat Kings celebrate Tyler Coulter's OT winner.
  Tyler Coulter scored 51 seconds into overtime as the Brandon Wheat Kings downed the Calgary Hitmen 3-2 on Saturday night to grab a two games to none lead in the Western Hockey League's Eastern Conference Final.

  The Wheat Kings peppered Calgary netminder Brendan Burke with 46 shots including 16 in a third period when the only goal was Michael Zipp's tying marker for Calgary about seven minutes into the final frame.

  "I definitely thought was put a lot of pucks to the net tonight," said Coulter on CKLQ's post-game show, "A lot of credit to their goalie, he played well but, at the end of the day, we got it down."

  Coulter redirected a Ryan Pilon point shot home past Burke in the opening minute of overtime after the Wheat Kings had already created a couple of decent scoring opportunities in the offensive zone.

  "I just saw the puck go to the point and I went and stood in front of the net," added Coulter, "The last thing I remember is the puck hitting me and going in...I didn't really see it coming."

  For the second straight night, Brandon jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Jayce Hawryluk and Peter Quenneville.

  Adam Tambellini replied for Calgary with 3:12 left in the opening period to cut the Wheat Kings' lead in half.

  The game was goalless for a long stretch after that until Zipp's shot from the top of the left circle slipped underneath the glove of Brandon's netminder Jordan Papirny, who finished the night with 22 saves.

  Coulter's overtime heroics capped a quality performance by the Wheat Kings in a game that, in a lot of ways, should have had its outcome determined before it ever got to extra time.

  "You have to have some mental toughness, maturity, focus, composure and that's sometimes easier said than done but I give our guys credit," said Brandon GM/Coach Kelly McCrimmon, "I didn't sense any frustration or anything like that in the dressing room between periods or on the bench along the way."

  The series now shifts to Calgary, with Games #3 and #4 at the Saddledome on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Chaff...Calgary F Jake Virtanen was suspended by the WHL Saturday under supplemental discipline for his hit on Brandon's Tanner Kaspick early in the third period of Game #1 on Friday.  The length of the suspension has yet to be determined...Calgary coach Mark French was fined $1,000 by the WHL Saturday after being ejected from Game #1...Brandon scratches included Kaspick, D Kale Clague, D Mark Taraschuk, F Ty Lewis, F Quintin Lisoway, F Reid Duke and G Logan Thompson...after 5,028 attended Friday's game, Saturday's crowd was 5,004...Adin Hill made 38 saves to help Portland beat Kelowna 3-2 Satruday to tie the WHL's Western Conference Final 1-1...the United States beat Canada 7-2 Saturday in semifinal action at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship.  Canada will play for bronze on Sunday.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Wheat Kings Win Opening Game

Braylon Shmyr
  John Quenneville had two goals and three assists to pace the Brandon Wheat Kings to a 9-4 win over the Calgary Hitmen Friday night in the opening game of the WHL's Eastern Conference Final.

  Braylon Shmyr added a pair of goals for the Wheat Kings, the first two goals of his WHL playoff career.

  "Our team played well in the first period, just to get that lead to setus up for the whole game," said Shmyr on CKLQ's post-game show, "We kind of let up there but we always have to play that full 60 minutes."

  After jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Jayce Hawryluk and Quenneville in the opening 7:39, the Wheat Kings allowed the next two goals, leaving the game tied 2-2 nearing the midway mark of the second period.

  Peter Quenneville's power-play goal 9:02 into the middle frame restored Brandon's lead and the Wheat Kings then delivered a knockout blow when Shmyr and Nolan Patrick scored 22 seconds apart at 12:17 and 12:39 to make it 5-2.

  Tim McGauley added a goal and two assists for Brandon with Morgan Klimchuk also scoring and Rihards Bukarts and Eric Roy chipping in with three assists each.

  It was a bit of a sloppy game for both teams throughout, perhaps a testament to the week both teams had off after finishing their second round series last Friday.

  "We saw this a little bit in Game #1 against Regina where both teams showed some rust after that layoff, so I don't know if that's part of it.  I expect our team to be much better (Saturday)," said Brandon GM/Coach Kelly McCrimmon, "Pretty uncommon you get a game like this in the third round of the playoffs, winning a game by five goals.  If you look at the ten we had played (up until tonight), six of them finished 3-2 to this one was definitely not expected."

  Both teams lost players during the course of the contest, with Kale Clague and Tanner Kaspick both leaving the game for Brandon and Hitmen forward Chase Lang being helped to the Calgary dressing room during the third period with an apparent leg injury.

  The game also featured an ejection for Calgary coach Mark French, who was tossed from the game 5:11 into the third period after a verbal dressing down of the officials and ended with a stick tossed onto the ice.

  That'll likely net at least a fine for French, along with the unlikely possibility of a suspension from the WHL office.

Chaff...Quenneville's five points tied a career-high for the New Jersey Devils' draft pick...Hawryluk and Bukarts both extended their point-scoring streaks to seven was Brandon's first nine-goal playoff game since April 2, 2005 at Moose Jaw...Brandon's scratches included F Reid Duke, F Quintin Lisoway, F Stelio Mattheos, F Ty Lewis, D Mark Matsuba, D Mark Taraschuk and G Logan Thompson...Jackson Whistle's 30 saves led Kelowna past Portland 3-2 on Friday in Game #1 of the WHL's Western Conference Final...Canada plays the United States Saturday in semifinal action at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Opening Act for Wheat Kings, Hitmen

  The Brandon Wheat Kings open the Western Hockey League's Eastern Conference Final on Friday night when they play host to the Calgary Hitmen (7:38 p.m., Westman Communications Group Place).

  It's been a week since both teams advanced in their second round series, allowing both squads ample time to heal their playoff wounds and to scope out their next opponent.

  "Calgary's offensive strength, for me, comes from the forward position and the depth they have through their top three lines," said Brandon GM/Coach Kelly McCrimmon on Thursday, "I think that's the strength of their team."

  Indeed, this matchup is a battle of a great offensive team against a stingy defensive squad, but likely not in the context most would expect.

  Calgary leads the WHL in playoff scoring, averaging just over four goals per game, while Brandon is the best defensive team so far in the post-season with an average of 2.1 goals against per contest.

  "We have to keep playing the way that we're playing.  As you move up in the rounds, you play better teams so we have to raise our level of play in the D-Zone," said Brandon defenceman Ryan Pilon, "We have to be fast because they're going to come at us.  We have to expect that and we just have to raise our play even more."

  Adam Tambellini leads the WHL in playoff scoring with nine goals and 21 points while Connor Rankin has also been deadly in the post-season as he's tied with Tambellini for second in the league with nine goals and has added five assists in 12 post-season games.

  That duo plus linemate Jake Virtanen are likely to see a lot of Brandon's top defensive pairing of Pilon and Ivan Provorov throughout the Eastern Conference Final.

  "Just taking away their time and space, just like any good player in this league," said Pilon when asked how to limit the trio's effectiveness, "They're all tremendous players and we just have to have good gap on them, take away as much time as we can so they don't have time to do their stuff out there."

Ryan Pilon
  The good news is that it appears Brandon will only be down one man as the third round begins, with forward Reid Duke the only Brandon player still sidelined with a suspected injury.

  Rihards Bukarts, Jayce Hawryluk and Colton Waltz are all expected to play Friday after all three missed the final three games of the Regina series.

  "We've been shorthanded each of the first two series and our depth has helped us through," said McCrimmon, "As we move only, you get to Calgary, there's just that much more depth through their lineup at the forward position, that much more depth through their lineup through the defence position so for us to be able to match up, the healthier we are, the more it's going to help us."

  The Wheat Kings took three of four regular season meetings between the two teams this season, but the two sides haven't met since a 5-4 Brandon win in Calgary on January 11th.

Chaff...Bukarts and Hawryluk both carry six-game point-scoring streaks into Friday's contest...the Wheat Kings have outscored their opponents 17-3 in the third period and overtime so far in the 2015 playoffs...eight different players have scored Brandon's eight game-winning goals in the playoffs including Peter Quenneville, Tanner Kaspick and John Quenneville netting overtime goals...Brandon was 5-for-18 (27.8%) on the power-play against Calgary during the regular season and 10-for-12 (83.3%) on the penalty-kill...Brandon G Jordan Papirny is 13-3-0 with a 2.05 GAA and .934 SPCT in 16 starts since March 1st (regular season and playoffs combined).

McGauley up for WHL's Top Award

Tim McGauley
  The Brandon Wheat Kings have a finalist for the Western Hockey League's Player of the Year Award for the first time in a decade.

  Tim McGauley was named the Eastern Conference nominee on Thursday after a season in which he finished third in the league in scoring with 105 points.

  "It's definitely an honour and an accomplishment for sure but, in the end, this wasn't the main goal," said McGauley on Thursday, "The goal was to win a championship so I still have work to do."

  McGauley finished in the top-six in the WHL in several offensive categories including goals (42), assists (63), points (105), plus-minus (+43), game-winning goals (8) and first goals (8).

  "I just tried to play my role, just be a two-way player, play both ends of the rink and be more focused on that and the points just came over the year," said McGauley, "It was more of a surreal season, I don't think anyone saw it coming, so to have it happen as it did was real nice and to be nomined for Player of the Year is a huge honour, for sure."

  Among McGauley's other accomplishments this season was a 24-game point-scoring streak from January 16 to March 13, the longest point-scoring streak in the WHL in 18 years.

  "For the most part, I've been trying to play both ends of the rink and play defence fast and, ultimately, it leads to offence and it did," said McGauley, "I kept playing the same all year long and the defence really helped my game and helped me to move the puck quickly up ice and that transferred into a lot of offence."

  McGauley is the first Wheat King to be a finalist for the Player of the Year award since Eric Fehr won the award in 2004-2005, and the fifth Wheat King to be nominated for a WHL honour

  Nolan Patrick is up for Rookie of the Year, Ivan Provorov is a finalists for Defenceman of the Year, Peter Quenneville is nominated for Most Sportsmanlike Player and Kelly McCrimmon is the Eastern Conference nominee for Executive of the Year.

  McGauley will be in tough to try and become the sixth Brandon player to win the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy.

  The Western Conference nominee is the WHL top goal and point getter, Oliver Bjorkstrand of the Portland Winterhawks.

  He finished the season with 63 goals, 118 points and a league-leading +60 rating.

  The WHL will hand out their hardware at an awards luncheon in Calgary on May 6th.

Klimchuk Enjoying Uncharted Territory

Morgan Klimchuk
  Morgan Klimchuk is doing a lot of smiling these days.

  Klimchuk is into the third round of the WHL playoffs for the first time in his career; he and the Wheat Kings advanced at the expense of his former team, the Regina Pats, and he'll get a chance to play in his hometown in the Eastern Conference Final.

  "We're really excited about what we've done but I think we're doing so well because this is what we expected to do.  We expected to have some success in the post-season and we're not letting ourselves get too high because we're not satisfied yet," said Klimchuk on Wednesday, "We've set our sights on a league championship and this is another step along the way that we know is going to be real tough test for us and something that'll be a tough challenge that we're really looking forward to."

  Klimchuk was a first round pick of his hometown Calgary Flames in the 2013 NHL Draft and, like teammate Eric Roy, will get a chance to play in front of Flames' brass in this series.

  However, the major difference is Klimchuk signed an entry-level contract with Calgary in December of 2013.

  "I played many hockey games there and even this year and since I've been drafted," said Klimchuk, "My focus is going to be on our series and just contributing to getting a win for our team and not so much playing for them.  This is the longest push I've made in the playoffs and I'm looking to keep it rolling here and I'm going to be looking to play my best no matter where we're playing."

  After being acquired from Regina on January 2nd, he notched 20 goals and 50 points in 33 regular season games with Brandon and finished 19th in the league in scoring with 80 points overall.

  He's probably fit into the Wheat Kings' organization as well or better than any of Brandon's trade deadline acquisitions in recent memory.

  "Right from the moment I learned I was getting traded here, Kelly (McCrimmon) has been unbelievable with me and the whole coaching staff have welcomed me with open arms.  They didn't try to force too much on me, they kind of let me play my game and fit within the system," said Klimchuk, "Having such a good team that we do, wins hockey games and didn't lose a whole lot since I've got here has made it a lot easier."

  Klimchuk has two assists in four post-season games this spring, returning to Brandon's lineup for their Game #5 victory over Regina after missing six games with an injury.

  And it looks like Klimchuk will have plenty of help in players in returning to the Wheat Kings' lineup for the Eastern Conference Final.

  The latest is Jayce Hawryluk, who practiced with Brandon on Wednesday.

  Hawryluk missed the final three games of the Regina series after being injured in Game #2 on April 11th.

Chaff...the dates for the final three games of the Eastern Conference Final were set Wednesday, with Games #5 and #7 to be held on Brandon on May 1st and 5th respectively...the WHL finalized Regina D Connor Hobbs' suspension for the kneeing major he took against Brandon on April 15th at one game, which was served last Friday...Canada's U18 team will face Sweden in quarter-final action Thursday at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship (9 a.m. CDT).