The Brandon Wheat Kings struggled through four games in five days leading up to the New Year’s Day celebration.
After suffering a pair of losses in a home-and-home series with the Regina Pats, the Wheat Kings dropped both games of a series with the Moose Jaw Warriors on Dec. 30 and New Year’s Eve. The results dropped Brandon to second spot in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference Wild Card race, seven points behind the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Brandon’s starting goaltender, Jiri Patera, was in British Columbia competing for the Czech Republic in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Championships. Connor Ungar and Ethan Kruger have been working in his stead, with Kruger taking the job in a 3-2 loss to the Pats at Westoba Place last Thursday.
Regina took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission, but Brandon pulled within one when Ridly Greig scored five minutes into the second. Sergei Alkhimov returned the Pats’ lead to two goals early in the third period, scoring his second marker of the game. Cole Reinhardt made the score 3-2 about eight minutes later.
Despite getting two opportunities to tie the game on the power play through the final 10 minutes of play, the Wheat Kings failed to convert.
In Regina the following evening, virtually the same story was played out with Brandon dropping another 3-2 decision. Garrett Wright, Austin Pratt and Logan Nijhoff scored for the Pats, while Reinhardt and Luka Burzan tallied for Brandon.
Kruger suffered the loss in goal again, facing 38 shots. The Wheat Kings managed just 20 shots on Regina netminder Max Paddock.
After a day of reflection, the Wheat Kings returned to Westoba Place on Sunday hosting the East Division’s third seed, the Moose Jaw Warriors. Kruger gave up five goals through the first two periods before being replaced by Ungar at the start of the third. Both goalies faced 40 shots in the contest, which saw the visiting Warriors coast to a 6-2 victory.
Although tied at one after a pair of early goals from each team to start the game, Moose Jaw went on to pot five consecutive markers, putting a stranglehold on the Wheat Kings.
Brandon Midget ‘AAA’ Wheat King call-up Nolan Ritchie scored his first Western Hockey League goal in the loss, with Braden Schneider tallying Brandon’s other marker in the third period. Justin Almeida scored twice for Moose Jaw while Jett Woo, Tristan Langan, Kaeden Taphorn and Tate Popple collected one goal each.
New Year’s Eve had the teams clash again, this time in Moose Jaw’s Mosaic Place. Chase Hartje put Brandon ahead at 10:31 of the first period, but Warrior forward Brayden Tracey scored the first of his three goals in the match less than two minutes later. Tracey’s efforts would be all Moose Jaw needed for a 3-1 victory in the teams’ final game of 2018.
The Wheat Kings hover just above .500 with 15 wins, 14 losses, three overtime losses and three shootout losses as they face the Seattle Thunderbirds at Westoba Place on Friday. They travel to Saskatoon to meet the Blades on Sunday before hosting the Portland Winterhawks back in Brandon on Tuesday.
Game times are 7:30 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Tuesday.