Thursday, 21 April 2016

Wheat Kings, Rebels Set to Start

Reid Duke
  The Brandon Wheat Kings host the Red Deer Rebels Friday night to open the WHL's Eastern Conference Final (7:30 p.m., Westman Communications Group Place).

  The Wheat Kings are coming off series victories over Edmonton and Moose Jaw, two teams that presented different challenges to the team.

  The first round series with the Oil Kings was little more physical and had less open ice while the Warriors were more of a fast-paced, offensively-skilled team.

  Brandon forward Reid Duke believes those two series have been good preparation for the challenge of playing the Rebels.

  "I think Edmonton really helped us out with that, made us a lot better team just in terms of the physicality and how hard it is to win in the playoffs," said Duke on Thursday, "I think Moose Jaw gave us a good test with their speed, and I think Red Deer has both of those qualities so our first two rounds were a good warmup for this series."

  The Rebels and Wheat Kings split their four game season-series, which included a 10-0 loss by Brandon in Red Deer on January 2nd.

  The Wheat Kings used that game as a bit of a jumping off point to the rest of their season, going 25-6-2-0 over their final 33 regular season games to finish atop the Eastern Conference standings.

  "When bad things happen like that, it does two things...it either pulls a team apart of brings you closer together and I thought it brought us closer together as a team," said Brandon goaltender Jordan Papirny, "From that point on, we realized that we have to bring our game every single night and, when we do, not many teams can skate with us."

  Papirny will be on the key figures in this series against good offensive team in the Rebels, while the club will also need to continue to get contributions from the rest of their lineup.

  Duke, a 2014 Minnesota Wild draft pick, has 16 points so far in the post-season and is currently part of a seven-way tie for second in the WHL playoff scoring race.

  He'll carry an eight-game point-scoring streak into Game 1.

  "It's playoffs so everyone is going a lot harder but I think that's one of the biggest things Kelly (McCrimmon) has helped me out with is working harder and playing at a high pace every single shift," said Duke, "Along with Timmy (McGauley) and Johnny (Quenneville), I think that's paid off for all three of us."

  The Eastern Conference Final not only features quality players on both sides, but some quality behind the benches.

  Red Deer bench boss Brent Sutter and Brandon GM/Coach Kelly McCrimmon are two of 16 coaches to record 400 or more regular season wins in the WHL, and they currently rank fifth and sixth respectively in all-time coaching victories in the playoffs.

Chaff...Ivan Nikolishin, the Rebels' leading scorer during the regular season, has been sidelined since March 26th with an undisclosed injury.  His availability for this series is uncertain...former Wheat King Ray Ferraro, who scored a league-record 108 goals in 1983-84, was named #11 on the WHL's countdown of the Top-50 players of all-time on Thursday...a special Playoff Pre-Game Tailgate Party will be held on Friday from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the parking lot at the Heritage Co-op grocery store...Westman Communications Group announced late Thursday that they will be televising the Brandon Wheat Kings' games for the rest of the playoffs after an arrangement was made with the Western Hockey League.

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