Brandon, MB (CKLQ) – The dog days of summer are behind us and the Manitoba air is feeling a lot colder than it did two week’s ago and that can only mean one thing, hockey season is just around the corner.
The Brandon Wheat Kings will be the last team in the WHL to open training camp when the club’s rookies hit the ice at Westoba Place on Wednesday morning.
Fifty Wheat Kings prospects will strut their stuff for two days before Main Camp opens on Friday. With one veteran goalie and 16 skaters eligible to return, the excitement is building for the 2018/19 season.
“There’s a real feeling of optimism in terms of what we think our team is going to be capable of this season,” said Wheat Kings Owner and Governor Kelly McCrimmon. “We’re at a point in the year where everyone is real anxious to get camp started.”
The Wheat Kings bowed out to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in five games in the WHL’s Eastern Conference Semi-Final, a massive improvement from the first round sweep at the hands of the Medicine Hat Tigers the year prior.
A season that saw the high of a ten game winning streak, also saw an emotional departure of two longtime Wheat Kings, a move that should have a positive impact on the roster moving forward.
“Last year, we moved two of our top guys in Tanner and Kale,” added McCrimmon. “I think the thought process behind that was to help put us in a good position for this year and the coming years.”
“We’ve got some real good pieces in place. We’ve got a good depth chart a good protected player list and an abundance of draft picks and those things are all really important in terms of trying to build a championship team.”
When looking around the East Division, one could argue that the Wheat Kings should be in a position of power, with the Swift Current Broncos, Regina Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors looking to rebuild after long playoff runs. However, comparing each team’s roster is not something the Wheat Kings boss is doing anytime soon.
“I’m less concerned with the other teams in the Division and where they may or may not be. I’m more concerned with where we are ourselves.”
That being said, McCrimmon has certainly helped put his team in a position to take a big step forward. The Wheat Kings took a pair of Vegas Golden Knights draft picks in the CHL Import Draft earlier this spring. Goaltender Jiri Patera has signed and will be in the Wheat City when camp opens.
“Jiri’s got really good size. ” said McCrimmon. “He was excellent at our (Vegas) development camp in late June, He’s 19-years-old, and has played a year in the USHL. He knows the language and knows what the lifestyle is going to be like. I expect him to come in and be a real good player.”
Meanwhile, Swedish import Erik Brannstrom has his eyes set on playing professional hockey with Vegas or their American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
“If Erik makes his way to Brandon he will be one of the top players in the league, there’s no doubt in my mind,” added McCrimmon. “His situation is a little less clear in terms of what his availability might be to play in Brandon. He’s going to come to Vegas to try and make that team and he will get every opportunity to do that. What matters to us most and what matters to the player most is we want to put him in a spot where is going to end up being the best NHL player he can be.”
The first group will hit the ice on Wednesday at 8:30 am. All sessions are open to the public.