Last week we took a look at the future of the Brandon Wheat Kings, the rookies. This week let’s take a look at who is returning.
Friday night Moose Jaw rolled into town for Brandon’s second preseason game of the season. Moose Jaw dropped the sluggish Wheaties 4 to 2.
This wasn’t a great game to really evaluate the veterans from last year; reason being, coaches Bobby Lowes and Mark Johnston decided to play almost all their veteran rearguards as forwards. Therefore let’s extrapolate where each veteran left off last year, what is needed out of them this year and perhaps a guess as to what might happen to them in the scheme of things.
This would be an area of strength for Brandon if the fact that the yearly tradition of many injuries has struck again.
Jamie Hodson – 19, 6’2″, 196. Hodson through the balance of last years season established himself as Brandon’s number one puck stopper. Hodson made his status clear in spite of his coaches sticking to alternating between goalies. Going into the playoffs Hodson was deemed ‘the man’ between the pipes. Hodson aggravated an existing injury to his knee in March and after a brief rest played out the season with pain. In May he underwent re-constructive knee surgery to repair the damage. He is presently rehabbing well and is on schedule to return to the lineup in late November.
Of Brandon’s returning goaltenders Hodson has shown the most consistency and has shown constant evolution in his game over the last two years. He has learned to challenge shooters and play his angles well. His anticipation was always good; therefore he does not leave rebounds for opposing players to cash in. Post to post movement has improved greatly and even with the filling out of his frame has maintained his quickness up and down. His puck handling skills have gone from poor to acceptable. Hodson when healthy will be one of the top 3 goaltenders in the WHL this year.
Jomar Cruz – 19, 6’1″, 194. With Hodson’s injury Jomar gets the nod as the number one this year from the start of the season. Last year Cruz’s 1st half of the season was an unmitigated disaster as one game he would shine, the next game he struggled. With a fresh start and a commitment with himself to stand up more, his number one status should allow him to bounce back huge. This year Cruz must just relax and focus on stopping the puck, not how he should stop it. Last year long shots were an adventure for him, his pads were like trampolines for rebounds and once he butterflied he wasn’t quick to get back up. I understand he has worked on these weaknesses. With Hodson out for now, Brandon should be all right between the pipes with Cruz. When Hodson gets back, what then? Look for Brandon to trade one of the two.
Brett Thurston – 17, 6’0″, 192. As a 16-year-old last year Thurston was exposed to some pretty good mentors on defense, Andrei Lupandin, Burke Henry and Daniel Tetrault. Last year he showed glimpses of his future as a quarterback for the Wheaties, but his main role as a rookie was to stay at home and keep it simple. Now that Henry and Lupandin are gone, look to Thurston to play a larger role on the power play. Thurston is very strong on his skates when working in his own end, uses his feet well and his first pass out is almost always good. On offense Thurston can lug the puck, step up on a break and rarely gets caught at the line. He does not have a shot and needs to work on this. Thurston starred on Alberta’s Winter Games team last year.
Corey Unser – 19, 6’2″, 196. Corey was a nice surprise for Brandon last year. With the usual plague of Wheat Kings injuries last year Unser was forced into a starting role when making the team was a question mark. Unser responded by being one of Brandon’s steadiest stay at home defensemen. Late in the year as his confidence improved he showed he could carry the puck in transition. From this years preseason so far he looks to be stronger and more agile with the puck.
Wade Skolney – 18, 6’0″, 185. As part of the injury plagued last year Skolney might well have a right to forget about last season. Playing in only 33 regular season games last year did not allow him to develop at all. He was hesitant and sluggish for all but a handful of games last year. In his first year Skolney looked to be a player along the lines that Thurston is now. Skolney must rebound in order to balance out the Wheat Kings defense.
Daniel Tetrault – 20, 6’0″, 205. If there were ever an on-going tragedy in the Wheat Kings injury soap opera, Dan Tetrault would be it. Drafted by Montreal because of his obvious tenacious, feisty style of hockey, injuries have all but sent Tetrault to the loony bin. One year after the next Tetrault has had to fight back from serious injuries only to be struck down again. Last years’ injuries seemed to send him into a depression as he didn’t seem to have that fire anymore. This spring he was not signed by Montreal. Then this fall once given an invite to the Calgary camp could not go due to another injury. This is the Captain of the Wheat Kings. He is the leader of this team. From Friday’s game one could see his step and spark are back. The Wheaties need the whirling, nasty, intense, Tasmanian Devil of a Daniel Tetrault this year. Given the quality of individual he is, he deserves a year without injury and the chance to go pro. Godspeed Daniel Tetrault.
Scott McCallum – 20, 6’4″, 230. Bongo as he is affectionately nicknamed, came along way from last year. I lovingly referred to him as Big Ole’ Purple Barney early last year. As the year went on his intensity went up and so did the level of his play. McCallum showed a lot of the reasons he was drafted by Phoenix in 1997. As he took the play to his opponents, the more he went out of his way to punish them first, the more effective he became. Here in lies the problem with him. He is noticeably relaxed early this year again. I have watched him at the Impact Pro Camp this summer, preseason intra squads, preseason games and I can’t help but notice his lack of aggression and willingness to practice the way he should play. As much as I remember the way he can play, I also remember the way he can play (if you catch my drift). This guy is an enigma. In Friday’s game he was put on forward, so again it was hard to evaluate him. He looked clumsy as a forward (lack of real drive to improve skills?), but did not allow anyone to take liberties with him. He left early due to the preseason fight-instigating rule. Brandon needs the Bongo who is hungry; it’s hard to tell if that’s what they will get.
Les Borsheim – 20, 6’2″, 200. Lester the Molester has finally found himself. Through camp, through the games it is apparent this boy is hungry, bigger and meaner. He lost interest in hockey last year took some time off mid-year and somehow found his way back. His punishing style on defense was sorely missed on Friday night. He has showed improved quickness, strength (he already was strong) and poise. Look to a good year from Lester.
Three 20 year olds means someone must go. Can you trade a leader like Tetrault? Will McCallum play with aggression? Would you want to move the strongest, most physical, most improved player on your roster in Borsheim. Sorry Westman, I think Bongo should go.
The Wheaties have lost Jason Chimera, Brett McLean and Ryan Robson to graduation to the pros. These were 3 of the go to players up front on offense, big shoes to fill.
Richard Mueller – 17, 5’9″, 170. Mueller had an uneven year last year. Only 16 at the time, having bad days is okay. Now a veteran a lot is expected out of Mueller to do what he does best, skate. This kid is one of the quickest players in the Dub and when he utilizes his speed on the forecheck and in transition can control a game. He now is taking the play to his opponents and sticking his nose in it. A good dose of pest in Mueller through out the year could establish him as one of the best pure offensive players in the league. He must learn to balance his plays off with his linemates and use his speed only to create a disadvantage – wait up Mr. Mueller your too quick for your linemates. A walk on last year; Mueller is a very pleasant development.
Petr Kudrna – 18, 6’0″, 190. Hello, where are you Mr. Kudrna? A player who has a good shot, great puck handling skills, is physically gifted but plays as light on his feet and as uninvolved without the puck as I have seen. This kid reeks of skill but seems lost out there half the night. I am not sure he has the edge it takes to become effective.
Jan Fadrny – 19, 6’1″, 190. The only returning import, Fadrny had a poor year for a player so highly regarded. Last year he always seemed out of position to be effective with his teammates in the offensive end and didn’t help produce the goals needed. He can skate and seems to skate miles. Let’s hope he learns to work with his teammates better. Fadrny is very solid defensively so he doesn’t need to work at that so this should allow him to work on offense.
Brett Girard – 19, 5’11″, 185. Hampered by a tender shoulder in the 1st half of last year, Girard came on strong in the 2nd half once he realized he would stay in one piece if he initiated the play. Brandon’s best two-way player is about to show the league what he can do. Girard is a crafty playmaker, great face-off man and is defensively aware. So far through the preseason he is trying to do too much. Once he relaxes and tries not to force the issue Brandon will look to Girard to play a leading role.
Mike Wirll – 17, 5’11″, 185. One of two Brandon players selected to Canada’s gold medal winning Under-18 team this summer, he was also one of two players from Brandon not able to play due to injury (will this ever end). Wirll is a bonafide whiz with the puck. He sees alleyways to his teammates and sees holes to the mesh through traffic when shooting. Wirll is quick, agile and hard to hit. There is some question as to what he offers to the emotional well being of this team, but this is a new year. Look for 35 to 40 goals and an equal number of assists this year.
Ryan Craig – 17, 6’1″, 195. The other injured U-18 selection from Brandon, Craig has the potential to be a very, very good player. Craig can play through out the game in any situation, power play, penalty kill, four-on-four, in the trenches and in his own end. The hallmark of his game is intelligent choices. A player that balances shooting to playmaking. Last year he seemed to fade through games as if conditioning were a factor. This year he should arrive as one of the Western Leagues’ best young players.
Randy Ponte – 18, 5’11″, 210. Injured via a slash delivered by Scott Balan of the Regina Pats this Friday’s game. Out for a month (this is just weird). The ‘Wild Thing’ showed late last year and in the playoffs an ability to bludgeon his opponents to create opportunities deep for Brandon. His hard work fore-checking began to pay off. Ponte has finally learned he is more valuable in the game working hard on the puck rather than working hard on the opponent’s facial features. Don’t count him out in this department either as Ponte has vowed revenge on Mr. Balan when he gets fully healthy again. Be afraid WHL, be very afraid.
J. D. Kehler – 18, 5’10″, 200. Another bad injury, knee (this is hopeless), has kept Kehler out of the lineup since late last winter. Kehler is very strong, is aggressive, has a good shot, works the boards well and has decent wheels. Has not been able to skate in practices until just recently. Would be a welcome addition.
Alex Argyriou – 20, 5’10″, 185. ‘Greek’ as he is called had a stellar December and January last year. A string of concussions forced him out of the lineup. Argyriou is a very crafty and slick player who, when given the opportunity can bury the puck. Has a bad habit of never finishing his check and with his concussions maybe a question mark to stick with the Wheaties.
Brad Twordik – 20, 5’10″, 200. In a surprise move, St. Louis returned Twordik to the Wheat Kings. Twordik is a hard worker, leads by example and hates to lose even the smallest battles. A specialty teams leader, Twordik will help Brandon keep pucks out as well as put pucks in. It is a very pleasant surprise having Twordik back.
Aaron Goldade – 19, 6’1″, 195. Goldade has worked hard to improve himself as an all round player of the past year and it is becoming readily apparent. Goldade has looked unstoppable this fall, albeit himself stopping himself from finishing with a goal. Hands, or lack of them seem to be the challenge. Pucks over the goal line have to be worked hard for by Goldade. Luckily for Goldade he finally realizes he must work hard shift-to-shift, game-to-game to get the results he has become hungry for. Look for Goldade to have a stellar year.
Look for Argyriou and McCallum to be gone before the 20-year-old three-player limit deadline. With all Brandon’s talent and depth almost everywhere look for a major trade with a Western Division team packaging some young talent with the above for a scorer. In January, look for Brandon to deal a goaltender for futures and a big, physical 19 year old defenseman.
Friday Night’s Game Notes
Seems Moose Jaw doesn’t have to worry about goaltending this year. Nineteen-year-old Tim Barlow looked very confident and capable, stopping 38 shots enroute to the Warriors 4 to 2 win over Brandon.
Moose Jaw has a nice crop of 17 year olds growing. Good size, speed and skill. Martin Beck, Steve Crampton and Ben Knopp come to mind.
Speaking of Knopp, along with quick hands he has a very quick first step. He beat Daniel Tetrault back to the puck from the goal line in order to wheel back and fire a crisp, but elegant goalmouth pass for an easy marker by who-ever.
For the Wheat Kings it wasn’t a very good night. As a group they looked disoriented and out of sync. Half of Brandon’s veteran forwards were on defense though. Of the Wheaties Brett Thurston, Kevin Harris and Mike Gerstenbuhler played strong games.
Brandon is on the road for the next three games before another season begins September 24th versus the Regina Pats at the Keystone Centre. I look forward to the beginning of an interesting season for the Wheat Kings.