‘AAA’ Wheaties season ends at West Regionals in Tisdale

After losing three round robin games at the Western Region TELUS Cup playdowns, the Manitoba champion Brandon Midget ‘AAA’ Wheat Kings failed to advance in TELUS Cup national meet, closing their 2018-2019 campaign.

It was one heck of a ride for the Brandon Wheat Kings Midget ‘AAA’ hockey team. Unfortunately, their 2018-2019 journey came to an end in the small farming community of Tisdale, Sask.

The Wheat Kings were representing the Manitoba Midget AAA Hockey League at the 2019 Telus Cup Western Regionals, where they faced Saskatchewan champion Notre Dame Hounds, the host Tisdale Trojans, and the Thunder Bay Kings from Northern Ontario.

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Ken Schneider had hoped his team would advance to the national championship, but it wasn’t meant to be as the Wheat Kings lost all three of their round-robin games.

“We had some bad breaks for sure,” said Schneider Sunday afternoon on the bus as the team returned to Brandon. “But there were times we just were not consistent enough.

“The first period is really critical for us and we had several chances to score in the first period (of the first game versus Notre Dame), but we only scored once and ended up losing 4-2.”

For the record, the Wheat Kings fell 4-2 to the Hounds, 5-4 to the Thunder Bay Kings, and 6-1 to the host Tisdale Trojans, who were a perfect 3-0 in the round robin. It was the Thunder Bay game which really sunk Brandon’s chances, as they were up 4-2 heading into the third period, only to give up three unanswered goals to drop them to 0-2 and out of playoff contention.

“We fell asleep for five minutes there. I think we felt too comfortable, which is not how we want to play,” the Brandon coach said. “Maybe one of those penalties was questionable, but that’s part of the game. And when we lost 5-4, that was pretty much the show.”

Tisdale defeated Thunder Bay 6-5 in the West Region championship final match on Sunday, which required overtime to determine a winner. Both will attend the 2019 Telus Cup national championship, with Thunder Bay playing as the host team. The TELUS Cup national Midget ‘AAA’ championships will take place April 22 to 28.

For the Wheat Kings, the disappointing result in Tisdale does not take away from the exceptional season they experienced. The team overcame a change in head coach mid-season, then climbed through the MMAAAHL playoffs and winning a league title as the No. 3 seed, making it a special year for midget hockey in Brandon.

“We accomplished a lot this year in winning a league championship,” said Schneider. “It was a real thrill for them.”

Outside of the tournament, a group of parents took a moment to pay their respect at the site where the Humboldt Broncos bus was struck by a tractor trailer in April of 2018. A total of 16 people lost their lives in the crash.

“There was also a moment of recognition at the rink,” said Schneider. “I have visited that location myself last summer, and it’s an ominous feeling to visit there. You want to stop and be respectful.”

With the season concluded, the Wheat Kings will now be in the market for a new head coach. While Schneider enjoyed the wild ride this season, he will be stepping away from the bench once again to focus on his other duties, as well as spending more time with his family.

“I’ve been at this a long while, so maybe it’s nice to go out on top,” said Schneider with a laugh. “I’ve got my scouting with the Regina Pats, and I have a young grandson who is playing hockey now, and I want to spend more time watching him as well.”

Brandon’s Western Regional results

The Wheat Kings opened the Western Regional tournament with a 4-2 loss to the 2019 Saskatchewan Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League champion Notre Dame Hounds on Thursday afternoon. Brandon hit the scoreboard first with a powerplay goal scored by Rylan Thiessen at 11:29 of the opening period, assisted by Calder Anderson and Troy Hamilton.

The score remained that way until part way through the second frame, when Notre Dame’s Jake Dale tied the game at one on the powerplay. Assists went to Keaton Sorenson and Will Levigne. Sorenson followed that goal with one of his own to give the Hounds the lead heading into the final 20 minutes.

Notre Dame continued to charge early in the final period, with Dale scoring his second of the game to put his team up, 3-1. The Wheat Kings had a late opportunity to get back in the game with the man-advantage, but Notre Dame’s Cam Recchi scored a shorthanded marker to stretch the gap.

With 1:29 remaining, Anderson pulled Brandon within two again, assisted by Colin Cook and Cole Jordan, but the Hounds simply hemmed the Wheat Kings deep in their defending zone through the last minute of play for the win.

In the team’s second game on Friday, Brandon carried the play to the Thunder Bay Kings, but penalty trouble in the third period allowed Thunder Bay to score three goals for a 5-4 victory. Brandon’s loss made advancing to Sunday’s final virtually impossible.

Thunder Bay scored first at 8:27 of the opening frame when Dawson Lampi and Kyler Belluz teamed to beat Brandon goaltender Dawson Green. Brandon fired back with two goals less than 40 seconds apart, beginning at 15:49. Nolan Ritchie scored Brandon’s opening goal, assisted by Rylan Thiessen and Colin Cook. Troy Hamilton followed with a goal at 16:26, assisted by Ritchie.

But Thunder Bay would not exit the period quietly. A faceoff in Brandon’s zone late in the period led to a goal from Anthony Biniaris with less than a second remaining on the clock. Cole MacKenzie and Nikolas Campbell assisted on the tying goal.

The Wheat Kings struck back with the only two goals of the second period. Brayden Michaluk and Hamilton each scored to give Brandon a 4-2 advantage heading into the final 20 minutes. Thiessen, Cook, Mason Kaspick and Grady Franklin were handed assists.

Thunder Bay maintained pressure to start the third, finally beating Green at 7:57 to pull within one goal, then tying the game at four on a powerplay about three minutes later. Travis Hensrud scored Thunder Bay’s third goal with help from Biniaris and Campbell. Belluz tied it with the help of Hensrud and Tarcisius Tibishkogijig.

Then, like Brandon’s tendency to score in spurts, Thunder Bay made it 5-4 just one minute later on a goal from Campbell assisted by Biniaris and Mason Bazaluk.

The Wheat Kings forced Thunder Bay to defend deep in their zone through the final seven minutes, but Rylan Thiessen was called for holding with 2:23 remaining. It forced Brandon to both kill the penalty and pierce the Kings defense with a one-man disadvantage. Thunder Bay simply played it safe and ran out the clock.

The book has closed on the Wheat Kings’ 2018-2019 hockey campaign with a 6-1 loss to the Tisdale Trojans Saturday afternoon.

The Trojans opened the scoring 4:12 into the match with a goal from Dawson Schaff, assisted by Kalen Ukrainetz and Trenton Curtis. Brandon’s Nolan Wallace took a slashing penalty three minutes later, allowing Davis Chorney to sink a power-play goal past Wheat King starting goaltender Brad Letain.

After missing a power-play opportunity of their own, the Wheat Kings battled back with significant scoring chances off of long passes through the neutral zone. Brandon got on the board on a second power-play when a desperate scramble in front of the Tisdale goal saw Colin Cook pick up the puck and score. Nolan Ritchie and Troy Hamilton assisted.

Tisdale regained a 3-1 lead before the period closed. Ukrainetz scored with assists going to Zac Robins and Curtis.

After no scoring in the second period, Brandon’s Jared Twerdoclib took a checking from behind minor penalty just 19 seconds into the third, allowing Chorney to put Tisdale up 4-1 at 1:00. He was assisted by Cade Hayes and Landon Kosior. Ukrainetz added another goal, assisted by Curtis and Schaff, three and a half minutes later to put the Trojans up 5-1. Chorney scored his hat-trick goal at 14:44, assisted by Ukrainetz and Schaff to further solidify Tisdale’s lead.

Letain stopped 30 of the 36 shots he faced in the match, while at the other end, Tisdale’s Bryson Garton stopped 32 of 33.

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