There’s plenty of reason for optimism surrounding this year’s Brandon Wheat Kings midget ‘AAA’ hockey team.
The Wheat Kings haven’t won a Manitoba ‘AAA’ Midget Hockey League championship since 2007, but with a veteran core returning, Brandon could possibly be in the mix this season when the playoffs start next February.
But before any parades are planned, head coach Chris Johnson says there is work to do with his club, despite starting the season 4-0. After collecting back-to-back 6-0 victories over the Norman Northstars and the Parkland Rangers, the Wheat Kings notched a pair of road victories last weekend. On Saturday, Brandon dumped the Pembina Valley Hawks 8-2 in Morden, Man. then defeated the Interlake Lightning 5-2 in Teulon, Man. the following day.
“It was pretty ‘scrambly’,” Johnson said about the team’s opening two wins. “But we’re one of the older teams in the league, which is good for us. I’ve been here three years and we’ve never had this many 17-year-olds.
“So even though we were scrambling at times in our opening weekend, we were able to get four points.”
Johnson has a wealth of final-year midget players on this year’s team, including two goaltenders, four defenseman, and five forwards.
“We’re older than we’ve been in a long time,” he said. “For a lot of them it’s their third year in the league so they have a lot of experience. It does help us.
“And sometimes this league can be younger with a lot of 15-year-olds, but we haven’t played everybody, so we’re not sure who’s older and who’s younger this year.”
Johnson added it doesn’t really matter how old the other teams are, as they are currently focused internally on what they can control.
In terms of team captains, the Wheat Kings have a pair of players up front and on the blue line who are expected to be leaders this season. Forwards Drayson Collyer and Calder Anderson are co-captains, while defenseman Rylan Thiessen is an assistant. The team also has three-year veterans such as Jared Twerdoclib , Connor Cook and Tanner Morrison to provide leadership.
“And both of our goaltenders (Dawson Green and Brad Letain) are 17, so our leadership is spread out throughout the whole lineup,” says Johnson.
With so much veteran talent Johnson says this should be a skilled team that has a chance to win every night.
“Our depth is probably one of our strengths. From front to back, that’s a strength for us,” he said. “As for weaknesses, it’s early on so I don’t really know yet.
“I think our dedication and preparation, and the way we play the game, are also strengths for us.”
As for their goals this season, Johnson just wants to get this team into the post season and take it from there.
“That’s our goal, but for now it is baby steps,” he said. “We basically start with a nine-game road trip to start the year, and we don’t necessarily have a win-loss goal. We want to progress and make sure guys are ready for the next level, and that we’re prepared as a group.
The Wheat Kings have a bit of a grueling schedule to start the season, with eight of their first 10 games on the road. Their next home date will be on Oct. 20 when they host the Winnipeg Thrashers. They don’t play at home again until Halloween night against the Yellowhead Chiefs.
Brandon will travel to Shoal Lake to face the Yellowhead Chiefs on Saturday. The Chiefs have opened the season with five consecutive wins, making the game a contest between the only remaining unbeaten teams in the league.
The Wheat Kings move on to Winnipeg to meet the Winnipeg Wild on Sunday.