I was recently reminded that my five-year anniversary of joining the Brandon Wheat Kings just passed.
My travel and game totals have seen a significant upturn in that time, while also increasing my workload and the amount of submitted reports.
I’ve also reconnected with friends, scouts, alumni and other personnel in Brandon and with the Wheat Kings.
As the old cliché says: Time flies when you’re having fun. While there isn’t enough space in this newspaper for all the notable moments, here’s a look back at a few highlights and memorable times on this quinquennial anniversary:
- The opportunity to work with and learn from former director of player personnel Al Macpherson is something I’ll never forget. While I only had the privilege to work with him directly for one season, Macpherson is a true professional and the quiet architect behind so many tremendous Wheat King clubs during his tenure that spanned from 1986 until he stepped down in 2013.
When Macpherson spoke in meetings, you listened. He is a brilliant hockey mind. He also has a dry sense of humour behind the scenes that I never knew existed until I joined the club.
- My unofficial first day on the job with the Wheat Kings was the day I moved to Edmonton on July 9, 2012. That morning, as my little old Nissan Sentra was jam-packed and ready for a 12-hour journey west on the Yellowhead Highway, I met one more time with Wheat Kings governor/owner (and at the time general manager) Kelly McCrimmon to discuss the upcoming season.
The bantam crop that year featured the likes of Nolan Patrick, Tyler Benson, Sam Steel and Kale Clague, to name a few. Five of the first 10 picks in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft came from Northern Alberta.
While back in Brandon, the Wheat Kings were suffering through a rebuilding campaign and their first non-playoff season in a dozen years. The Wheaties’ scouting brass was hard at it, as was McCrimmon, who had yet to go back behind the bench, and thus, was often on many of the scouting trips.
I learned a lot from McCrimmon that season, and we frequently touched base as we prepared for a draft that played a key role in a Memorial Cup berth in 2016. In a world where you’re always learning, that 2012-13 scouting season may have been the year I took in as much information as I could and learned the most in what is now 12 years of scouting in the rear-view mirror.
- Draft Day, May 2, 2013 in Calgary: I’m a horrible sleeper most evenings, never mind the night before what is often described as Christmas Day for WHL scouts. After many hours of meetings, the day before and various scenarios brought forth to us, I decided at about 4 a.m. that sleeping any longer wasn’t going to happen. So I quickly showered and suited up for the day’s events. I ventured to the hotel lobby, thinking that I’d walk around to loosen up and clear my head a little.
Other than the front desk employees, I figured I’d be the only one walking the hotel hallways at that ungodly hour. But as the elevator door opened to the lobby, there was McCrimmon at the end of the hallway. Our conversation that took place shortly thereafter will remain private. But it was five minutes that filled me in on what was happening behind the scenes. A few hours and anxious moments later, we went from having the fourth and 17th pick in the first round to moving up and selecting fourth and sixth. Those picks turned into Nolan Patrick and Kale Clague. We followed that up with local products Tanner Kaspick and Ty Lewis in rounds 2 and 3 respectively. What a great day for the franchise.
- The 2014 Draft Lottery, March 19 – A day where the Wheat Kings and their fans, for one day only, became huge supporters of the Saskatoon Blades. As things were looking up for the Wheat Kings on the ice, what many people didn’t realize is from a deal McCrimmon made with the Saskatoon back in 2012 to send Brendan Walker to the Blades, Brandon had acquired the option to swap first-round picks with Saskatoon in 2014. And when the Blades won said draft lottery, the Wheat Kings did just that and for the first time ever had the first overall pick in the WHL Bantam Draft, eventually selecting Stelio Mattheos.
- The 2016 Draft, May 5 – Now former director of scouting Wade Klippenstein (currently with the Colorado Avalanche) makes his mark on draft day as he speaks with the Moose Jaw Warriors right before their first-round selection to move up in a draft that had the most trades in round one in my time involved in the WHL.
As the current Wheat Kings awaited to face Seattle for the league championship, Klippenstein orchestrated a deal for the club’s future that moved the club up to the 12th selection in the first round, selecting Prince Albert native and blueliner Braden Schneider, one selection before his hometown Raiders were slated to make their first pick. Of course, we’ll never know if Schneider was the man the Raiders wanted. However, I’m confident Wheat King fans will enjoy watching this young man on the Brandon blue line for the next handful of seasons.
- Nothing will top this moment – May 13, 2016: The Wheat Kings win the WHL championship for the first time in 20 years and hoist the Ed Chynoweth Trophy in Kent, Wash., after defeating the Seattle Thunderbirds 8-4 to win the best-of-seven series in five games.
After an impromptu trip to Brandon to watch Games 1 and 2 with my own eyes (two overtime wins I will never forget), I found myself glued to my laptop on a planned vacation in Las Vegas, taking a break from the Strip to connect to my resort’s Wifi network and watch the boys come back from 4-3 down late in the second period to score five-straight goals.
While being there first-hand to see the boys hoist that trophy would’ve been amazing, Las Vegas isn’t a bad place to be the night a championship is won, as least as far as I can remember…
Mike Fraser is a former Brandon-area sports editor and reporter who grew up in the Wheat City and has been involved in the athletic scene in Westman as a player, coach and media member. A former NCAA Division 1 goaltender, Mike is an 11-year Western Hockey League scout.