Since they returned to the ice following the annual holiday season break, the Brandon Wheat Kings have begun to climb over teams in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. As the Wheaties continue to mature, a leadership nucleus is beginning to emerge. Among the key ingredients on a group destined to play host to the 2010 Memorial Cup is second-year forward Brayden Schenn.
It would probably be an understatement to suggest there might be something special in the water used on Hurley Crescent in Saskatoon over the years.
In fact, there is evidence to suggest much of that same water was poured into the creation of outdoor rinks in the neighborhood during the winter months. Indeed, outdoor rinks have been a fact of life on the western Canadian prairies for many, many years. And further investigation confirms a veritable WHL “Who’s Who” list has emerged from this tiny enclave in Saskatchewan’s city of bridges.
“It would be -30C and all the boys on Hurley Crescent would still be outside,” laughed Jeff Schenn, Brayden’s father, who knows a thing or two about the use of a fire hose. “They all had a lot within themselves to do that. I mean, there are plenty of distractions, whether it’s a computer or an X-Box. To get out there and do it like they did, you really have to love the game.”
Jeff, a Saskatoon firefighter, also watched his eldest son Luke embark on an NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. He has also been involved in coaching for 24 years, many of which enabled him to observe and contribute to the progress of his sons.
“Brayden has a great chance to hopefully go to the next level,” Jeff said. “He’s been able to watch his brother and you know, we’ve all been able to learn from it. You do need some luck. With two boys, watching what they’re doing, we’re just so proud of what we’ve been able to be involved with.”
Among the others of note who grew up on famed Hurley Crescent is Jimmy Bubnick of the Kamloops Blazers, who is currently ranked 54th among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting. His older brothers, Jonathan and Michael, played in nearly 800 WHL games. There’s also Mitch Berg (Saskatoon Blades) and his younger brother Carter Berg (Chilliwack Bruins). And recently Boston Leier was drafted by the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers.
Life in Brandon, Manitoba
The Wheat Kings know they have something special in Brayden Schenn, who picked up the WHL’s Rookie of the Year award last season.
“He came in this season and sure, he is a year older, but I’m not sure how much more mature he could have gotten after his rookie year,” said Wheaties assistant coach Duane Gylywoychuk. “He has some pressure on his shoulders and maybe there will be some growing pains. However, he’s the type of player who does tend to thrive in those situations and that does make him a better player.
“Brayden is certainly a unique player. Combined with Scott Glennie and Matt Calvert (CBJ) last year, they were a dynamic line and gave us an opportunity to be successful. They’re a big part of what we do here, they’re an impact line. I think in Schenn’s case, he’s also taken on a leadership role as well. He’s been to the World U18 twice and with that kind of stuff it has really brought out the leadership qualities in him.
“We’ve moved them around a bit and it helps us to roll four lines. Especially on the road where we don’t have the last change, we’re hoping all our lines can then do some scoring. The three will see some power play time together and it’s nice to know we have that combination in our back pocket when we need it. We’re trying to even out our scoring and hoping to see everybody succeed.”
It can be difficult to remember that the majority of prospects for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft are either 17 years old or have just turned 18. There are high expectations of the youngsters and plenty of pressure heaped upon them by the hockey world and media. It can be a daunting proposition, speaking into tape recorders and in front of television cameras at such a young age.
In Schenn’s case, he seems a bigger presence than his 6’0, 192-pound frame. These days, he may be guilty of emitting a few clichés when queried, but therein lies the rub. We can too often forget that even though these youngsters are elite athletes who are close to the game of hockey’s professional riches, they are in fact simply beginning to learn all that the business of hockey entails.
Of high expectations
As a 16-year-old last season, Schenn tallied 28 goals and 43 assists in 66 games, tops among rookies. When asked about his outlook on the current campaign, Schenn was asked if he felt the award earned in his freshman campaign might result in some special attention from opponents.
“Well, I’m not sure about a bulls-eye on my back, but I guess there are guys paying a little more attention to me out there compared to last year,” Schenn conceded. “But I know nothing comes for free in this game, so I just have to keep working hard.”
This season, Schenn has collected 18 goals and 30 assists in 41 games. He is well aware of the success he has had with Glennie and Calvert, and understands they will garner the attention of advance scouting staffs across the WHL.
“I don’t know exactly what the other teams are trying to do as far as taking care of us in particular,” Schenn said. “We have been broken up a bit this season, but we know that we can always get back together. We’ve got to keep working hard for each other and not take anything for granted. It looks like this season will be a lot harder for us, so we have to ready to play every night.
“But I think we have four pretty good lines and we have great defensemen. Our goalies are really kicking so far, too. I think we’re a really well-rounded team, so other teams can’t afford to be too worried about just us.”
The combined skill set of Brandon’s top trio is not lost on Jeff Schenn, either.
“They have all helped each other,” Jeff said of the Calvert-Schenn-Glennie combination. “They all have good speed and they clicked right off the bat last season.”
Friends across the WHL
Much has been made of the success in recent years of a pair of midget programs in Saskatoon. The Contacts and Blazers are organizations that have graduated a number of prospects to the WHL in recent years.
Among the most prominent this season are Schenn, Bubnick and Carter Ashton of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. In fact, the three were a formidable line combination with the Saskatoon Contacts just a couple of years ago. Each was invited to the annual Top Prospects Game in Oshawa this month.
Schenn has been consistently ranked in the top ten by the International Scouting Service and Central Scouting. Ashton has gradually climbed into the top 15, while Bubnick has seen his stock drop marginally since the beginning of the season. In any event, each is very likely to hear his named called by an NHL team this summer.
“Yeah, I remember those 1991’s,” Jeff said. “I think the two midget teams in Saskatoon were pretty well coached and that’s where a bunch of the Saskatoon boys played. It was a good opportunity for them to work with each other, too. I think everyone really pushed each other and that made all of them better.”
Another of the midget alumni from Saskatoon is highly-touted defenseman Jared Cowan of the Spokane Chiefs. Last season, as a rookie, Cowan earned a Memorial Cup ring.
The Schenn family has been known to trek across western Canada in recent years. Luke spent three seasons with the Kelowna Rockets, which resulted in a few road trips through the Rocky Mountains. With Luke now playing in Toronto, travel of the four-wheeled variety seems to have decreased. Brandon is about a six-hour drive from Saskatoon and the Wheaties visit Saskatoon four times during the regular season.
Brayden remembers the travel over the years and keeps tabs on how much roadwork his family is doing.
“Well, they’ve already been to Toronto a few times and to Brandon. With Luke staying with the Maple Leafs, I’m sure there’ll be more traveling, too.”
On the home front, Brayden also gets a kick out of his younger sisters. Both Macee and Madison play hockey as well. According to dad, the girls have always looked up to Luke and Brayden.
“The girls play hockey, for sure,” Jeff said. “They’re with the Comets city-wide program here, which includes four teams. The boys have really had a positive effect on the girls and they just love to play.”