(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun) — Good news came in twos for the Brandon Wheat Kings on Thursday.
Czech defenceman Daniel Bukac skated for the first time since having off-season knee surgery, and overage rearguard James Shearer participated in practice for the first time without a red non-contact jersey, signalling his return to the lineup is closing in.
“It was nice to be back out there in a normal-coloured jersey and taking part in every drill,” Shearer said.
He said he’s had no issues with the Achilles in a while, and all the physiotherapy, training and strengthening have done their job. But he’s not ready to return quite yet.
“It feels good out there,” Shearer said. “Now I just need to do some skill work things and get back into game form and I think I’ll be good to go in a couple of weeks maybe.”
Wheat Kings head coach David Anning was pleased to see the second of his two overage defencemen — the other is Kade Jensen —back on the ice.
Still, Anning said there is no firm timetable for the return of Shearer, who is five-foot-nine, and 185 pounds.
“We’re continuing to evaluate where he’s at,” Anning said. “He’s progressing well and we’re encouraged by the fact that he’s out of a non-contact jersey. Now it’s a matter of getting up to speed and getting his timing back. It’s not easy returning after missing as much as he has so he’s going to have to continue to work at it on and off the ice.”
Bukac was on the ice for about an hour as part of a power-skating session. He said there was no soreness after it was over, and hopes to be back in early December after working himself into game shape.
“It was obviously a great feeling to be back at it,” Bukac said. “After four months, it’s great.”
Anning was also pleased to see the six-foot-five, 207-pound defenceman back on the ice. He noted that Bukac, like Shearer, has worked tirelessly to put himself in a position to return.
“We’re happy to see Daniel back on the ice,” Anning said. “It’s been too long, and we’re excited to get him back skating. Again, he’s another guy who has worked hard at it off the ice and he’s progressed well. Hopefully we get him on the ice and he starts getting his feet under him and his legs back and he’s that much closer to a return.”
With Braden Schneider away until early next week at the World U17 Challenge in B.C., Brandon will have six healthy blue-liners.
After leaving last Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Kootenay Ice in the first period, Jensen practised all week, and Kale Clague is back from the CHL Canada Russia series that he played in with forwards Ty Lewis and Tanner Kaspick.
Lewis was thrilled with the chance to participate in the two games, a 7-0 win in Moose Jaw, Sask., on Monday and a 4-3 loss on Tuesday in Swift Current, Sask.
The trio arrived in Moose Jaw on Sunday night and came home on Wednesday morning.
“There were some pretty skilled players out there and it was a great experience playing with those guys from around the league,” Lewis said. “Playing with Tanner (Kaspick) and Kale (Clague), guys you’re familiar with, was nice. Everybody was fast, everybody moved the puck hard, everybody shot hard, everything was that much better and faster. At the next level it’s going to be that much quicker so it was a good learning experience.”
Lewis, Clague and the Wheat Kings will host the visiting Saskatoon Blades on Saturday – Remembrance Day – at 7:30 p.m. The Blades won the opener in the eight-game season series between the teams, taking a 4-1 decision on Oct. 28.
“They’re a good, hard-working club,” Lewis said. “It’s going to be a good game. I don’t think any game in this league is easy and we’re going to have to play well to beat them. We didn’t have a great game in Saskatoon last time we played there so we’re going to be ready to get off to a good start here at home. Hopefully we’ll have a good outcome.”
Blades leading scorer Cameron Hebig is expected to play after landing on the WHL’s weekly report with an upper-body injury. The Blades lost to the Swift Current Broncos on Friday before travelling to Brandon.
“They’re a good hockey team,” Anning said. “They’re a team that is starting to put it together. They played very well against us in their building. It’s a big divisional game for us: We had all week to prepare and we expect to be ready to play and work hard and pick up where we left off on Saturday.”
While Shearer won’t be in the lineup, he echoed his coach’s comments.
“They’ll come out hard,” Shearer said. “They always do. We seem to have a little rivalry with them every year and they always play hard when they come here. I think they’re going to have a good start and be fast like always and give us a challenge but I think that we should be up to it after a good week of practice.”
Over two dozen minor hockey teams will be in attendance Saturday’s game, which will include a special pre-game ceremony in recognition of Remembrance Day.