Friday, 24 September 2010

New Look Wheat Kings Ready to Open Season

The Brandon Wheat Kings open their 44th season in the Western Hockey League Friday night as they host the Regina Pats (7:30 p.m., Westman Communications Group Place).

It'll be a far different Brandon team that takes to the ice Friday than the last time they played a meaningful game on May 23.

Gone from the lineup the club iced in the Memorial Cup Final are Matt Calvert, Jay Fehr, Aaron Lewadniuk, Brent Raedeke, Toni Rajala, Colby Robak, Travis Hamonic and Alexander Urbom while Brayden Schenn (Los Angeles) and Scott Glennie (Dallas) remain with NHL teams.

The mass exodus of talent have many believing the 2010-2011 season could be a down one for the Wheat Kings, but don't tell that to the players.

"Coming into the season, you always have high expectations. No one wants to lose, and no one comes here to lose," said fourth-year defenceman Brodie Melnychuk after practice earlier this week, "We definitely expect to win every game we play and as long as guys come along and we keep working, we can make that happen."

Melnychuk has the most experience of any of the returning players, having suited up for 201 regular season and 33 playoff games with Brandon over the last three years.

The Balgonie, Saskatchewan product had seven goals and 24 points last season while being the only player to appear in all 72 games Brandon played, and also finished third in the WHL with a +46 rating.

There will be a lot of eyes on the 19-year old Melnychuk this season as he attempts to fill a large void on the club's top defence pairing.

"Everyone looks forward and wants to be the #1 guy, that's what everyone strives to be," said Melnychuk, who attended Anaheim's Rookie Camp earlier this month, "I'm going to try and make the most of this opportunity."

Melnychuk is just one of four returning defencemen with the Wheat Kings, along with sophomore Ryley Miller and 20-year olds Darren Bestland and Mark Schneider.

It's expected at least one of the 20-year olds won't be with the Wheat Kings long-term, which means it'll be up to the remaining veterans to lead a young but talented group of rookies.

"Every year I've been here, there have been lots of guys that I could follow and learn from and, this year, I'm that guy. I just have to help them and lead by example," said Melnychuk, "I just have to keep it simple, work hard and, hopefully, they follow my lead and we can develop as a group."

Brandon's young defence core includes Jordan Fransoo, who played four playoff games last spring, Rene Hunter and Kyle Krzyzaniak, who both spent last season with the MJHL's Portage Terriers, 2009 first round Bantam Pick Eric Roy, Grandview product Ryan Pulock and 17-year old Spencer Galbraith.

Chaff...Brandon had won nine straight regular-season openers prior to dropping their first game in Prince Albert last year...the Wheat Kings have, however, won 10 straight home opener including last year's 3-0 win over Swift Current. The last Brandon loss to open their season at home was in 1999, a 5-4 loss to Regina…Wheat Kings' GM/Coach Kelly McCrimmon enters the season two wins shy of 300 for his coaching career. He'll be the 17th coach in WHL history to hit that lofty plateau…the Wheat Kings passed the 2,900 mark for season tickets sold earlier this week…among the opening night festivities Friday will be a special look back at the 2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup, which is presented by RE/MAX and is slated to start at approximately 7:20 p.m. In addition, Memorial Cup chairperson Jeff Cristall, WHL Commissioner Ron Robison and CFB Shilo Commanding Officer Lt. Col Shane Schreiber will be on hand for the ceremonial opening face-off on Friday.

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