Thursday, 7 May 2015

Wheat Kings, Rockets Set for WHL Final

Jayce Hawryluk
  The week-long wait is finally over, as the Brandon Wheat Kings and Kelowna Rockets will drop the puck on the Western Hockey League's championship series Friday night (7:30 p.m., Westman Communications Group Place).

  The matchup seems pretty even, with the teams not only finishing just two points apart in the regular season (114 to 112), but boasting identical 12-3 records so far in the post-season with goals-for (65-64 in favour Brandon) and goals against (34-39 in favour of Brandon) also very tight.

  "I think we need to control the game as much as we can and set the ante and play at our pace and make them play with us instead of chasing them," said Brandon forward Jayce Hawryluk on Thursday, "I think if we work as hard as we can and compete as hard as we can every night, we'll be fine.'

  As much as Brandon has been known for their high-scoring offence this season (405 goals in 87 regular season and playoff games combined), it's their strong defensive play that has keyed their playoff run so far.

  The Wheat Kings have allowed two or fewer goals in 11 of 15 playoff games this spring, with the team's goals against average standing at 2.16 going into the WHL Final.

  "We're just really focused on getting first pucks out and that has kept a lot of pucks out of our end and less chances against," said Brandon defenceman Colton Waltz, "I think that's something that we've really worked on and done a good job at."

Colton Waltz

  One of the Wheat Kings' keys in this series will be limiting the damage done by star Kelowna forward Leion Draisaitl.

  The Edmonton Oilers' 2014 first round pick has a team-high 21 points in 15 playoff games after scoring 53 points in 32 games with Kelowna after joining the Rockets in a trade with Prince Albert in early January.

  "He's a great player.  He's a big guy that uses his size well and has great skill," said Waltz, "When you're playing any skilled player, you have to take away time and space and I think that's we'll try and do with not just him, but with any of their top guys."

  Kelowna also boasts some star power on the back-end with Madison Bowey leading all WHL defenceman with seven goals in the playoffs and Winnipeg Jets' 2013 first round pick Josh Morrissey having produced 11 points in the nine playoff games he's played.

  As far as the injury lists are concerned, the Wheat Kings look to be close to 100 per cent healthy heading into the WHL Final.

  Quintin Lisoway, who had season-ending knee surgery in late March, is the only Brandon player expected to begin the series as out with an injury.

  On Kelowna's side, Tyrell Golbourne is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a laceration to his calf suffered last Friday while high-scoring F Rourke Chartier missed the last three games of the Western Conference Final.

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