(Courtesy of Chris Jaster, Brandon Sun) — The Brandon Wheat Kings were dealt a fairly balanced schedule for the 2017-18 Western Hockey League regular season and added a new holiday game as well.
The league released its schedule on Tuesday and Brandon will have two stretches away from Westman Place in the upcoming winter, but they will be followed by homestands for the Wheat Kings, meaning the team won’t be away from the comfy confines of Westman Place for too long. It’s a nice change from last season when the team played 13 of 20 games on the road between Jan. 20 and Feb. 28.
The first long trip of next season will come from Jan 17 to 27 when the Wheat Kings tour the U.S. Division, taking on all five teams, before playing the host Kootenay Ice on Jan. 26 and 27. The trip is followed by five days off and four games at home for Brandon.
It is a bit of a change for Brandon to go on its West Coast trip so late, but part of that has to do with the annual rotation of when teams take their trips.
“It’s probably not the greatest time, but it’s what you have to live with in the confines of the league,” said Wheat Kings general manager Grant Armstrong. “I would prefer to be out earlier, but we don’t really control that. It’s what we have, we’ll make the best of it. It’s January on the West Coast, which beats January in the Prairies, hopefully.”
Armstrong is a little concerned that Brandon has five games between Jan. 5 and 13 and then has three days or rest/travel before opening the U.S. swing against the Spokane Chiefs which is a lot of hockey and travel in a short period of time.
The Wheat Kings are keeping their Remembrance Day game tradition alive by hosting the Saskatoon Blades on Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. They added another holiday game to the schedule this year as well. On Louis Riel Day — Monday, Feb. 19 — the Wheat Kings will host the Moose Jaw Warriors at 2:30 p.m.
“We just thought it would be a great opportunity to maximize a quality holiday event and make it a combination of celebration of Louis Riel Day and the fact the Brandon Wheat Kings are available to play on that day as well,” Armstrong said.
“I think it’s an opportunity to get families in the building and experience the quality of the hockey team. We look at it as it’s a great marketing event, but it’s also a great opportunity for families to be together on a day and give them an event in town that they can start to put on their schedule.”
Brandon opens the regular season by hosting the Regina Pats on Friday, Sept. 22, the first leg of a home-and-home set that wraps up the following night in the Queen City.
Brandon will play three of its first four games in the Wheat City, as well as five of 11 in October, five of 10 in November, seven of 12 in December, five of 13 in January, six of 13 in February and five of nine in March. The season concludes when Moose Jaw visits Westman Place on March 17.
Of Brandon’s 36 home games, 27 will be played on weekends and holidays, which pleases Armstrong.
“Those are great nights,” he said. “Those Friday nights and Saturday nights that we get at home are great to be around. The fact that we were able to maximize as many as we possibly could was great.”
There will also be six home games on Tuesdays and three more on Wednesdays.
With Brandon visiting U.S. Division teams, that means the B.C. Division squads are travelling east. The Vancouver Giants will be in Brandon on Oct. 20, followed by the Victoria Royals on Oct. 21, Kelowna Rockets on Dec. 9, Kamloops Blazers on Dec. 12 and Prince George Cougars on Feb. 2.
Brandon will play Regina, Saskatoon, Swift Current and Moose Jaw eight times and Prince Albert six. The Wheat Kings face each Central Division opponent four times.
The team also announced its CKLQ Sportman’s Dinner will be held on Thursday, Feb. 8. The event raises money for the scholarship foundation. The Blades visit the following night.
AT CAMP: There are 10 players from last season’s Wheat Kings team at NHL development camps. Goalie Logan Thompson and defenceman Dmitry Osipov were invited to Las Vegas to join Reid Duke, the first player to sign with the expansion Golden Knights. Forwards Ty Lewis and Tyler Coulter, both Brandonites, received invites from the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes, respectively. Nolan Patrick (Philadelphia Flyers), Daniel Bukac (Boston Bruins), Tanner Kaspick (St. Louis Blues), Stelio Mattheos (Carolina Hurricanes) and Kale Clague (L.A. Kings) are all with the teams that selected them in the last two entry drafts.