A year ago, the Wheat Kings were nine games under .500 and on their way to missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
This year, Brandon looks like a solid playoff-bound team and are battling for first-place in the Western Hockey League's East Division.
13 of the Wheat Kings' 23 players were on the roster a year ago, so the maturity of that group has gone a long way toward the team's 2013-2014 success.
"It's a whole new dressing room in there. From from last year, I think we've took the positives, what we learned from last year, and brought them into this year," said Brandon forward Jayce Hawryluk on Thursday, "Everyone's just realized that we've got a strong group of guys here and a good core. We've all bought into what we need to do and we've really matured over the first half of the season."
The maturation process has been most noticeable in players such as Hawryluk and fellow sophmore John Quenneville, who are not only 1-2 in the team in scoring but are also noticably better in their off-ice preparation and intensity level.
The Wheat Kings are getting set to host the Swift Current Broncos on Friday night (7:30 p.m., Westman Communications Group Place), the team that is currently hold down first-place in the East Division.
Brandon is 23-17-4-0 for 50 points, meaning a win Friday would match their win total from all of 2012-2013.
That leaves the Wheat Kings two points behind the 23-16-1-5 Broncos, with the Regina Pats (23-17-3-2, 51 points) sandwiched between the two squads.
The race for first-place in the East Division should be an interesting one to watch the rest of the 2013-2014 season.
"It's exciting. I think we've really worked hard for this spot," said Hawryluk, "I think, coming to the rink each day working real hard and sticking to our systems, I think we've deserved it. It hasn't come by luck or chance, we've worked for it and we're now being rewarded."
The Wheat Kings haven't played since Saturday's 5-2 win over Prince Albert but it's been far from a restful week for the team.
A number of players missed practices this week because of illness but all were on the ice Thursday except Richard Nejezchleb, who is expected to play Friday night.
Brandon will be looking to get their power-play back on track this weekend.
The Wheat Kings have been good with the man advantage for most of the season and rank second overall with a 24.6% success rate.
However, they are just 2-for-16 in their last four games.
"For the most part, all year, we've been really strong with our entries so if we can continue that and then have a good net-front presence. I think we lacked that when we were struggled," said Wheat Kings' right-winger Peter Quenneville on Thursday, "We'd want to be opening up for that one-timer or make a fancy play but when you get net-front presence and you get shots from the points and get a little havoc and get rebounds, that's when our power-play gets going."
On the other side, Brandon's penalty-kill is 12-for-14 (85.7%) over the last five games.
Chaff...former Wheat King Travis Young will make his debut as head coach of the Bridgewater Lumberjacks of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League on Friday night...members of Brandon's Crocus Plains High School hockey team got a chance to attend Wednesday's NHL game in Pittsburgh between the Penguins and Washington Capitals. Former Wheat King Eric Fehr met with the team afterward. That's Eric in the back row, middle. Crocus' coach is my colour man on the Wheat Kings' CKLQ broadcasts, Peter Gerlinger. He's second from the left in the front row.