Monday, 23 January 2012

Wheat Kings Look to Right Ship

Eric Roy could return to Brandon's lineup Tuesday
The Brandon Wheat Kings open a four-game road trip Tuesday night when they pay a visit to the Kootenay Ice (7:30 p.m., 880 CKLQ or www.cklq.com).

It’s been a tough January so far for the Wheat Kings, winning just two of ten games this month and eight of their last 24 contests after a 15-7-1-1 start to the season.

“Obviously, we were one of the top teams in the Conference at the start of the season and we’ve kind of got away from that the last couple of months,” said Brandon captain Mark Stone after Monday’s practice in Cranbrook, “If we can get back to the things that we had success doing, we should be fine.”

Stone went on to talk about improving their specialty teams and cleaning up the defensive zone as two key areas of improvement.

“I thought our power-play and our penalty-kill won us some games in the first half and it’s really struggled here in the last little bit,” said Stone, “If we can get a few goals from our power-play, it really helps our bench. If we can get that going, it can certainly help and we also need to tighten up our defensive zone and keep pucks from the outside.”

Brandon’s power-play was operating at a 31.4 per cent success rate through the first 24 games of the season – 19.6 per cent since including just 11 power-play goals in their last 18 games.

Defensively, the Wheat Kings are on pace to set a franchise record for most shots allowed, at least in the ‘modern era’ (since 1996-97) and have surrendered an average of 36.6 shots against over their last 24 games including a dozen games of 39 or more shots against.

The club has spoken publicly about sticking together as a team through this rough stretch, and Stone feels that’s the only way they’re going to pick themselves back up.

“Going through these times, it’s tough and there is a lot of negative energy going through the locker room,” said Stone, “We just need to stick together…there’s nothing we can say much more, we just need to let our actions speak for themselves.”

Brandon looks like they’ll get some help back on their blueline on Tuesday night as Eric Roy practiced without restrictions on Monday after missing the previous three games with a suspected shoulder injury.

However, Dominick Favreau didn’t practice after hurting his shoulder late in Saturday’s home-ice loss to the Ice.

Brandon enters Tuesday’s game with a four-point lead over the Red Deer Rebels for eighth-place and the final playoff spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, with the Rebels having two games in hand.

Chaff…Brenden Walker takes a six-game point-scoring streak into Tuesday’s contest (3 G, 6 A)… F Kevin Sundher leads the WHL with 25 power-play assists…F Darian Dziurzynski is second in the WHL with five shorthanded goals this season…F Mark Stone has 33 power-play points this season (13 G, 20 A), second-most in the WHL behind Portland’s Ty Rattie…the Wheat Kings are averaging 14.9 penalty-minutes per game, the lowest amount in the WHL, while their 42 fighting majors ranks 14th in the league… Brandon has attracted fewer than 4,000 fans to five of their last six home games, and is averaging 4,043 fans per game through 24 home games this season. That is down 233 fans per game from last year.

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