(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun) — he 2018-19 Western Hockey League season is still three months away but the Brandon Wheat Kings know how important their games in November and March will be.
The league released its schedule on Tuesday, and the Wheat Kings will be very comfortable at home in November as they have seven of eight games at Westoba Place between Nov. 9 and 30, with the lone road game taking place in Swift Current on the 28th.
It’s the perfect time for a long homestand according to Brandon GM Grant Armstrong.
“The month of November is always a good month, especially for our fans because a lot of the farmers have got the crops off and things are starting to settle down and they’re starting to think of their winter plans,” he said. “To have a nice homestead in November is great, and it’s spread out over a couple of weeks there. That really helps us as we go through that month.”
That stretch will be a nice respite for the team as it comes on the heels of Brandon’s West Coast road trip. The tour begins on Oct. 23 when Brandon visits Lethbridge and continues through Nov. 3 with contests against Kootenay, Victoria, Vancouver, Prince George, Kamloops and Kelowna.
Armstrong is pleased with the timing of the trip as he believes it’s ideal for team bonding and allows the players to get more familiar with each other.
Brandon also has five straight home games before heading out west.
It’s a two-week stretch in March that could determine the Wheat Kings’ destiny though.
The team has known for a while that it would have to vacate Westoba Place because of the Tim Hortons Brier running from March 2 to 10 in the facility.
The team will be gone longer than that as it begins a seven-game road swing on Feb. 23 when it visits Prince Albert before playing six games in nine days against Central Division opponents between March 1 and 9. The team returns home to host Moose Jaw before closing out the regular season schedule with a home-and-home series against the Regina Pats on March 15 and 16. Brandon hosts the latter game.
“I think it can do one of two things, it can kill momentum or it can add to it,” Armstrong said of the March road trip. “I think the way we’ve got it spread out over nine days is good. I know our guys will be really anxious to get back once the trip is over and really prepare themselves for the push into the playoffs.
“It’s not the ideal time, but for us at the end of the year, it’s one of those times when the group can really come together. The guys on the road really have a lot of fun and get challenged themselves in terms of working together and going through any team problems. For them, they always look at that as an opportunity to get ready for the playoffs and that’s what it’s all about.”
The season begins for Brandon on Sept. 21 when it hosts Moose Jaw.
Overall, Armstrong was pleased with the schedule. Of the team’s 34 home games — the schedule shrinks to 68 from 72 games this year — 26 will be played on weekends or holidays, including the annual Remembrance Day game against Tri-City and the new tradition of playing on Louis Riel Day. Swift Current will be Brandon’s opponent for that contest on Feb. 18.
“Anytime you can get in front of families, that’s really important to us,” Armstrong said. “Any family holiday is important for us to celebrate the holiday, but also to get everybody together as a group.”
With the reduced schedule, Brandon will play Regina and Moose Jaw eight times each and Swift Current, Saskatoon and Prince Albert six apiece. The Wheat Kings meet Central Division teams four time each.
The U.S. Division teams will also come to the Wheat City this year.
The Wheat Kings also announced their annual Sportsman’s Dinner will be on Thursday, Feb. 7th. Proceeds from the annual event will go to the hockey club’s Scholarship Foundation.