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Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Wheat Kings claim East Division banner

The Brandon Wheat Kings have earned their crown.

Coming away with a 5-1 victory versus Regina on Sunday, the Wheat Kings notched their 18th victory and 38th point of the season to claim their 14th East Division title in franchise history.

“That is what we came here to do right from training camp,” 2000-born right-wing Lynden McCallum, who dominated with a career-high four-goal outing against the Pats, told Perry Bergson of The Brandon Sun. “We said let’s be the best team here. Whatever they let us play for, we want to try to win it. Before the game, I was so proud of the guys. Everyone was focused. We had some rocky moments there during the game but we stuck with it and kept our composure, and things ended up working out.”

A key offensive producer for the Wheat Kings this season, McCallum was one of five Brandon skaters who scored north of a point-per-game pace, a group that also includes NHL-bound prospects in fellow forwards Ridly Greig and Ben McCartney, both of whom heard their names called as part of the most recent NHL Draft class.

“I am real proud of the group, the way they have worked,” first-year head coach Don MacGillivray told Bergson. “We put some bad games behind us, we put some good games behind us. We prepared ourselves on a daily basis like we did today and did not talk about the end result. The end result is we ended up with the best record in the hub.”

For McCallum, the division championship is among the many accolades that highlight his overage campaign, one in which he has lit the lamp at a near goal-a-game rate with 19 tallies through 21 appearances, while he also stands as the league’s most prolific producer in the goals column – holding a margin of five on Winnipeg’s Connor McClennon – entering Wednesday’s season finale against Saskatoon.

“I always believed in myself and tried to have high standards,” added McCallum per Bergson. “I would not go to the extent that I planned on leading the league in goals or anything like that, but I tried to do the right things and I developed a system of trying to be consistent every day and have that help me with my performances. I think the goals have just been a byproduct of trying to do the right things every day.”

Making his full-time debut with the Wheat Kings in 2018-19, the now 21-year-old McCallum closes out his WHL career with 65 total points in 132 games. Serving as an alternate captain this season, McCallum formed part of the Wheat Kings’ leadership core that was headlined by 19-year-old rearguard Braden Schneider, a 2020 first-round selection of the New York Rangers and one of the most highly touted defenders in the circuit.

Netting five goals and 22 assists for 27 points this year – just 10 back of McCartney for the team lead – Schneider was among the WHL’s most dynamic producers from the back end, headlined by a pair of recent contests against Winnipeg and Prince Albert in which he played the overtime hero on both nights.

“We have a confidence level that we can be in every game and we have some game breakers who can put the puck in the net so we are never out of a game,” MacGillivray told Bergson. “We have lots of guys who like to win, they are competitive guys, and that has been the key for our guys. Our leadership group has been outstanding.”

Bringing imposing size mixed with modern puck skills, Schneider has readily embraced his leadership role with the Wheat Kings, helping to usher in the club’s next wave of blue-liners that includes the likes of 17-year-old rearguard Vincent Iorio, one of two Brandon skaters alongside sophomore right-wing Jake Chiasson who have been earmarked for selection in the upcoming NHL Draft per Central Scouting.

And while Schneider has been the story on the back end in Brandon, the squad has also seen impressive returns from third-year netminder Ethan Kruger who assumed the starter’s duties this season following former go-to Jiri Patera’s ascension to the pro ranks with the Vegas Golden Knights’ organization.

Through 16 appearances, Kruger came away with the victory in all but two nights while earning a 2.30 goals-against average and .915 save percentage, both ranking second to only Everett’s Dustin Wolf among goaltenders who saw as much time in the blue paint this season.

Icing a lineup that has made the club a threat to come out on the winning side through each of its 23 appearances, the Wheat Kings now look to raise their sticks in celebration one more time as they close out the season Wednesday.

“It has been a lot of fun. There have been a lot of guys who have had individual success this year and that is a direct result of how good our team has been,” concluded McCallum per Bergson. “When the team does well, everyone on it does well.”

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