Friday, January 4, 2013

Wheat Kings Look to Put Lopsided Losses Behind Them


Michael Ferland spent his limited time on the ice Friday
in a no-contact jersey
  The Brandon Wheat Kings will try to put a disappointing road trip behind them when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday night (7:35 p.m., Westman Communications Group Place).

  The Wheat Kings were outscored 16-4 by Eastern Conference powerhouses Edmonton and Calgary in their last two games including the 10-2 loss in Calgary Wednesday -- the first time since December 15, 1998 that the Wheat Kings had allowed double digit goals against in a regular season game.

  "We were doing a lot of good things up until the last two games.  I think we got away from things, and I think the major thing was just our compete level was not there at all," said Brandon captain Ryan Pulock after practice on Friday, "We've come back to practice here the last two days and we've done at lot of work and I think guys are going to be excited to get back to work and prove that's not the type of team that we are."

  Brandon has surrendered a league-worst 170 goals in 40 games this season.

  That's 24 more goals against than any other team in the Eastern Conference and puts them on pace to give up more than 300 goals in a single season for the first time in more than two decades.

  Tightening up defensively will be one of the keys for Brandon if the club is to make the Western Hockey League playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, but special teams also have to rank high on the list.

  The Wheat Kings are last in the WHL in penalty-killing with a 69.0% success rate (at WHL team hasn't finished below 70% since 1996-97) and their power-play is also ranked near the bottom of the league with a 15.7% success rate including a 5-for-49 mark in their last 13 games.

  "I think, right now, we're just trying to keep it simple.  I think, at times, we're trying to get a little too fancy, whether it be on the breakout or in the zone," said Pulock, "I think we just need to get pucks up top, pucks on net and look for rebounds or pucks lying around in the crease."

  Brandon is minus-31 on special teams this season, having surrendered 59 power-play and shorthanded goals while scoring just 28 themselves.

  Despite Brandon's struggles, the club is still within striking distance of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference but this weekend's games, against Medicine Hat Saturday and in Regina Sunday, are two matchups against teams they'll be battling for the final playoff spot the second half of the season.

  "It's two games that we can win if we play how we have to play.  It's two games we need to come out flying and give ourselves a chance to win," said Pulock, "If we don't do that soon, we're going to find ourselves really fighting to get there."

  Things didn't look promising on the injury front during Friday's practice with 20-year old forward Michael Ferland only partially participating, and he was in a no-contact jersey when he did so.

  Ferland missed Wednesday's game in Calgary because of an upper body injury and is likely questionable for Saturday's contest as well.

Defenceman Rene Hunter was back at practice for the
Wheat Kings on Friday
   The Wheat Kings did welcome defenceman Rene Hunter back into their fold this week.

  Hunter left the team in late November but told me after Friday's practice that he's committed to remaining with the team for the rest of the season.

Chaff...Alessio Bertaggia was held off the scoresheet in Switzerland's 4-3 loss to the Czech Republic in Friday's fifth-place game at the World Junior Hockey Championship.  Bertaggia had two goals and four points in six games at the tournament...former Wheat King Bruno Mraz had two goals and five points in six games with Slovakia at the World Junior Hockey Championship...interestly enough, the last three times the Wheat Kings have surrendered double digit goals against have been against Calgary -- this past Wednesday (10-2 in Calgary), April 8, 2005 (10-1 in a playoff game in Brandon) and December 15, 1998 (11-1 in Calgary).

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