Snagging one victory out of a pair of home-and-home series has left the Wheaties on the bubble when it comes to playoff standings as they head into the Western Hockey League’s Christmas break.
The Brandon Wheat Kings recently faced powerhouse Prince Albert and rival Saskatoon in a pair of home-and-home series to end the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule, only managing to earn a win against the Blades in overtime.
Versus the Raiders, the Wheat Kings were much closer than the 6-0 drubbing they suffered earlier in the year, but still dropped both contests by a score of 5-2. The Raiders are still scorching hot with a 31-2-0-1 record and have out-scored the Wheat Kings 16-4 in their three games this season.
In the first game in Brandon, Prince Albert ran out to a 5-0 lead in the second and cruised the rest of the way for a 5-2 victory. The Wheaties didn’t get on the board until the 19:47 mark of the second when Connor Gutenberg scored his eighth of the season, but it was far too little far too late to mount a comeback.
The rematch in Prince Albert was much closer, with Brandon holding a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes thanks to Linden McCorrister’s 10th of the season. The Raiders would score the first three goals in the second, but the Wheat Kings cut the lead to 3-2 before the period ended when Luka Burzan scored. The Raiders, as they almost always do this season, put the game away in the third period with a pair of goals.
More recently, the Wheat Kings clashed with the Saskatoon Blades, who hold down second place in the East Division. After dropping a tight 3-2 decision to the Blades in Saskatoon on Dec. 14, the Wheat Kings returned home and headed into the break on a high note, earning a 6-5 overtime win on Dec. 15.
The game in Saskatoon ended in heartbreak as the Blades’ Gary Halden scored with just five seconds left in regulation to lift the hometown Blades to a 3-2 win and denying the Wheat Kings a point with an overtime loss.
The rematch in Brandon the next night was the perfect chance for redemption, and the Wheat Kings stepped up in a big way. Winnipeg’s Stelio Mattheos capped off a four-point night with the hat trick, game-winning goal in overtime, lifting the Wheat Kings to the 6-5 victory. It allowed the 4,455 fans in attendance to litter the ice for the second time that evening – the team held their annual Teddy Bear Toss that night, which saw the Wheat Kings’ faithful rain hundreds of stuffed plush toys, toques and mittens on the ice for some Christmas donations.
Mattheos’s goal in overtime came after the Blades had erased a two-goal deficit in the third period, allowing them to steal a point off the Wheaties.
Brandon now heads into their break with a record of 15-10-3-3, good for fourth place in the East Division and the eighth and final playoff spot in the wildcard standings. The Wheat Kings are three points back of Moose Jaw for third in the division and one point back of Medicine Hat for the first wildcard position. If the playoffs were to start heading into the Christmas break, the Wheat Kings would face the powerhouse Prince Albert Raiders in the first round.
The Wheat Kings will be back in action Thursday when they will embark on an intense four-games-in-five-nights schedule. They will take on last-place Regina in a home-and-home on Thursday and Friday, with the opener slated for Westoba Place at 7 p.m.
The Wheaties will then get the Saturday off before yet another home-and-home set. The Moose Jaw Warriors come to Brandon on Sunday for a special 4 p.m. start, followed by a New Year’s Eve tilt in Moose Jaw on Dec. 31 to end the 2018 portion of the season.