ROAD WARRIORS RETURN FROM LENGTHY WEST COAST TRIP
(Story Written by Perry Bergson – Brandon Sun)
It didn’t end how they wanted, but the Brandon Wheat Kings are finally home.
The Western Hockey League club pulled back into Brandon on Sunday after dropping the final game of their two-week, seven-game trip 4-3 to the Kelowna Rockets at Prospera Place on Saturday.
Luka Burzan scored twice and Braden Schneider added a single for Brandon, all on the power play as the Wheat Kings went 2-3-1-1 on their season-long seven-game trip.
Kelowna (7-10-0-0) had trailed Brandon (8-4-3-2) 3-2 after 40 minutes but scored twice on the power play in the final period, with Kyle Topping notching the game winner on a Brandon major penalty with 70 seconds remaining in regulation. Nolan Foote had two power-play goals for the Rockets, with Eric Gardiner adding a single.
Brandon head coach David Anning said his team played well on the trip despite earning just six of 14 available points.
“I think that we likely could have come home with more points than we did,” Anning said. “If you look at it in terms of our team game, I thought we played some very good games. We played some tough opponents and I thought we had some good performances where guys stepped up their game. Guys improved over the course of the trip so there are definitely some positive takeaways. It’s disappointing to end on the result that we did tonight.”
If there’s another upside, it has to be that the Wheat Kings will finally get the chance to enjoy some home cooking. They’ll play their next six games at Westoba Place, and won’t hit the highway again until they visit the Swift Current Broncos on Nov. 28.
The team will take the start of this week off, and Anning said the coaching staff will be wary of adding onto to the accumulated fatigue that inevitably stems from two weeks on the road.
“It’s a long trip and it takes a lot out of you,” Anning said. “It’s not easy being on the road for as long as we have been so the rest and recovery is going to be important. It’s just getting back into our routine at home and getting our energy levels back up. It takes time to recover from a trip like this so we’re going to have to give the guys some time off and manage our practice time and how we handle everybody and make sure that we’re giving ourselves the best chance of success for Friday (against the Red Deer Rebels).”
The Wheat Kings were without injured overage defenceman Schael Higson for the entire trip, putting extra pressure on the team’s four rookie defencemen, Vinny Iorio, Jonny Lambos, Chad Nychuk and Neithan Salame. Anning was pleased with their response.
“We went on the road for 14 days and we were down a defenceman who plays significant minutes for us and is part of our leadership group,” Anning said. “I think that our guys took advantage of that opportunity on the back end and improved over the course of the trip. I think the guys are comfortable playing in the roles they played throughout the trip and it’s very encouraging to see where we’re at with our young D corps.”
The Wheat Kings also scored at least one power-play goal in all seven games, although their penalty killers allowed 10.
Still, Anning said the trip’s impact should continue to ripple through the lineup.
“Overall, there are a lot of details in our game that took a step forward,” Anning said. “I think that we did a pretty good job away from the puck of tracking back and being around the puck defensively and working together in five-man units. And I thought our speed improved over the course of the trip. We had good puck support everywhere, we had some good looks off the rush and some good offensive zone time as a result. I think our group took a big step forward. There are lots of positives to build off of as we get back on home ice.”