There were some massive shakeups for Brandon’s two hockey teams which share the Wheat Kings name, though one of those in particular was not expected in the least.
In a stunning move, the Brandon Wheat Kings Midget AAA team fired head coach Chris Johnston on Jan. 10 – this despite leading the team to a 23-8-0 record.
The team would not comment on why the move was made, though of note the Wheat Kings were recently involved in a line brouhaha at the end of a 2-0 road loss to the Winnipeg Thrashers, who are neck-and-neck with the Wheat Kings near the top of the standings. Line brawls have all but disappeared in most organized hockey with stricter penalties being put in place, so perhaps that was a factor.
Ken Schneider has been named the team’s new head coach. He played three seasons with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings in the early ’80s, and has spent the past three years as a scout for the WHL’s Regina Pats. He of course also coached the midget AAA Wheat Kings for several years, posting a 124-45-7 record with the team before stepping down in 2014.
It’s been smooth sailing since the change, though, as the Wheat Kings have won three games in a row – including weekend wins over the Pembina Valley Hawks (2-1) and Eastman Selects (5-2), leaving Brandon in second place, just three points back of the first-place Winnipeg Wild.
• The WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings also saw several changes to their team, but these were more expected, coming in the days leading up to the annual trade deadline on Jan. 10.
The Wheat Kings are a bubble playoff team this year, and would likely have a difficult team besting some of the powerhouse squads in the WHL – especially the Prince Albert Raiders, their likely first-round opponent should they get into the playoffs. As such, they made some moves to help better position themselves in years to come, while still giving themselves a chance to get to the dance this season.
The Wheaties sent defenseman Chase Hartje to the Kootenay Ice (who are rumoued to be relocating to Winnipeg) for a third-round draft pick this spring. Hartje, a 19-year-old from Bemidji, Minn., had four goals and eight assists in 35 games this year.
The Wheat Kings also sent 20-year-old defenseman Schael Higson to the Kelowna Rockets for 20-year-old blueliner Braydyn Chizen and a fifth round draft pick. The trade is basically a swap of 20-year-old blueliners, though Chizen will definitely stand out amongst the crowd – he is measured at six foot nine inches tall. The bonus is that the Wheat Kings get a fifth-round draft pick.
The Wheat Kings kept their skill players in place, including Stelio Mattheos, the 19-year-old who continues to lead the team in scoring with 55 points in 38 games (11th in league scoring).
The Wheat Kings entered the post-trade deadline six points back of the Calgary Hitmen for the final wildcard playoff spot, though they did retain two games in hand.
Brandon has since gone 1-2 since the trade deadline, including a tough 4-2 loss in Swift Current on Sunday, this despite directing 49 shots on goal.
The Wheat Kings remain six points out of the final playoff spot.