Brandon, MB. – The Brandon Wheat Kings bring the curtain down on their pre-Christmas schedule this weekend with a home and home weekend series with the surging Saskatoon Blades.
The Wheat Kings, who are coming off back to back losses to the Prince Albert Raiders, enter the weekend with a record of 14-9-3-3 and sitting in fourth place in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Division.
Saskatoon meanwhile has been playing its best hockey of the season in recent weeks, posting a 6-3-1-0 record in its last ten and at 20-10-3-0 overall, the Blades sit second in the division, six points up on third place Moose Jaw and nine ahead of Brandon.
Brandon travelled to Saskatoon on Thursday where the two teams will open up the series on Friday. The Wheat Kings will then host the Blades at 7:30pm on Saturday.
The Blades have been led by Kirby Dach, defenceman Dawson Davidson and goalkeeper Nolan Maier.
At 17, Maier is among the league leaders with a sparkling 2.71 goals against average and a .911 save percentage in 27 appearances, Davidson is averaging close to a point per game with six goals and 32 points in 33 games while Dach leads the club in scoring with fourteen goals and 42 points.
Brandon coach David Anning says his club, which has been hampered by a rash of injuries of late, understands how big this weekend is.
“We fully understand the importance of this weekend,” Anning told Perry Bergson of the Brandon Sun this week. “Our division is very tight and the teams around us are getting points. It’s so important for us that we make sure when we have these four point games…we’re ready to play. Everybody’s jockeying for home ice in the playoffs so it’s on us to maximize on this weekend.”
Brandon’s blueline has been decimated by the injury bug recently and as a result, the Wheat Kings have played their last two games with five defencemen.
In addition to veteran Braden Schneider, rookies Jonny Lambos and Vincent Iorio are out. Lambos was hurt last weekend while Iorio suffered an upper body injury at practice this week.
Also missing this weekend is 19-year old netminder Jiri Patera. The Vegas Golden Knights’ prospect is currently skating with the Czech Republic national team, in preparation for the World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver.
The loss of Patera means the Wheat Kings will play through the holidays with rookie Ethan Kruger and 16-year old prospect Connor Ungar, who was recently recalled from the Northern Alberta X-Treme.
One player that will be back this weekend is veteran forward Cole Reinhardt. A one game suspension forced him to miss last Saturday’s game against the Raiders.
Saturday’s game will feature the annual Shoppers Mall Teddy Bear and Toque Toss at Westoba Place.
When the Wheat Kings score their first goal, fans are encouraged to litter the ice with stuffed animals.
All plush toys, toques and mittens collected from the ice will be donated to Brandon Westman Christmas Cheer Registry.
“The donation of stuffed animals and toques will certainly help bring holiday joy to children this Christmas,” says Shoppers Mall Marketing Director Candace McKenzie.
The Teddy Bear Toss is an annual Christmas tradition that began in Kamloops with the Western Hockey League’s Blazers in 1993. The first Teddy Bear Toss in Brandon was held the following year and has been a big hit ever since.
Since the Wheat Kings Holiday tradition began, close to 50,000 stuffed animals have been collected and distributed by the local Christmas Cheer Board. Over 2,500 were collected in 2017.
One change to this year’s promotion, fans can purchase raffle tickets throughout the Keystone Centre concourse for a chance to win some terrific prizes, including a Winnipeg Jets – Vegas Golden Knights’ package, that includes two autographed replica jerseys and tickets to a game.
Tickets to Saturday night’s game, which has become a holiday tradition in Brandon since 1994, are on sale now at the Keystone Centre box office, by calling (204) 726-3555 or online at keystonecentre.com
Saturday’s game will be Brandon’s final home game until Thursday, December 27th when the Regina Pats will pay a visit to Westoba Place.