(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun) — The Brandon Wheat Kings are set to embark on a new Western Hockey League season with their expectations set a little higher.
General manager Grant Armstrong told the Wheat Kings’ annual media reception on Thursday afternoon at Canad Inns that he liked the progression of the team made last year.
“We’ve grown as a group and internally in terms of the way that we do things,” Armstrong said. “I think we’ve responded well and now it’s up to the guys to respond at another level. We expect them to be ready and hungry and have that desire.
“We had a taste of playoff success but it wasn’t complete success in my mind because we should have got through the second round and continued on. We have to understand that’s the push we’re going to put towards our guys. We expect them to be accepting of that and willing to take the next step.”
Last season the Wheat Kings went 40-27-3-2 in the regular season and beat the Medicine Hat Tigers in six games in the first round of the playoffs before falling in five in the Eastern Conference semifinal to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Rookie camp kicks off on Wednesday, Aug. 27, with main camp starting two days later.
The team also officially announced on Thursday that goaltender Jiri Patera, who the Wheat Kings selected in the import draft, will be coming to Brandon.
“We expect him to come in and push for that number one spot, like we do Dylan Myskiw,” Armstrong said. “I said from day one that I think it’s all about competition and I think this camp is going to be a tremendous competition for all players.
“When it comes to goaltending, we want our guys to be the best and we’ve taken advantage of a situation. We’re lucky to have two goaltenders that we believe can play big minutes for us.”
Patera had indicated after the import draft in June that playing in Brandon was his goal if he didn’t make the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.
He’s the second player that Brandon chose in the annual Canadian Hockey League import draft from Cedar Rapids of the USHL. The last came in 2015, when the team selected a Russian defenceman by the name of Ivan Provorov.
Brandon also holds the rights to Colorado Avalanche first-round pick Martin Kaut and Vegas first rounder Erik Brannstrom, a Swedish defenceman. Armstrong said there is no update on their potential availability, adding that remains a decision of their NHL clubs.
Meanwhile, Luka Burzan will attend camp with the Ottawa Senators, as will Cole Reinhardt with the Avalanche. Draft picks Stelio Mattheos (Carolina Hurricanes) and free agent signee Ty Lewis (Colorado) will also go to NHL camps.
It certainly promises to be an entertaining training camp for Brandon. With top prospects coming in at every position and 18 returning players, the club has some interesting decisions ahead of it.
“There are no safe jobs here,” Armstrong said. “I think when you have 18 returning guys you want everybody to realize that they have to fight for their job every day. I think that’s the way we push our season. It’s not easy to play in this league and I don’t think it should be given to you just because you played the year before.”
The Wheat Kings have sold 2,036 season tickets so far. Last season the club drew 138,879 fans to its 36 home games for an average of 3,858, which was 11th best in the 22-team league.
They had nearly 2,600 season ticket holders for the 2017-18 season.
One change this year will be the move to a 68-game season from a 72-game season, which will cut home dates by two.
They also introduced new athletic therapist Roman (RJ) Kaszczij (pronounced Cash-gee), an Ontario product who came to the Wheat Kings earlier this week. He replaces Chris Trivieri, who spent the last two seasons with the club.
In other news, the Wheat Kings announced it had signed a three-year renewal of its broadcast contract with
Q Country 91.5. Play-by-play announcer Branden Crowe will return for his third season calling games.