The Brandon Wheat Kings year after year seem to find a way to the medical ward. Injuries have been the story every season for the Wheat Kings and this year is no exception. As of this date Dan Tetrault has a groin problem, others on the shelf include Brett Thurston with a shoulder problem. Wade Skolney has an injured back; Richard Mueller has yet another concussion and Jamie Hodson is still laid up until late November from his knee problems. J.D. Kehler just returned from a long absence from well back in last year.
Add in the fact this Wheat Kings edition is the smallest team I have seen in the Western Hockey League and one would think you would have a recipe for disaster. Not necessarily so.
In spite of all the challenges there is a lot of good things going on with the Wheaties. Only two games out of third and 3 recent road wins on their West Coast swing and things look okay for a very young team.
Here is each player’s progress report so far this fall:
Jamie Hodson – still laid up from last years’ season ending injury, Hodson is the Wheat Kings best goalie as he proved last year and one of the best three in the Western Hockey League. Stay tuned for my prediction on his future. Brandon now has three 19 year old goaltenders in the fold…hmmmmmm?
Jomar Cruz – after a rocky road season last year Cruz has rebounded with a very impressive string of twelve games for the Wheaties. Cruz has stopped the puck extremely well except for all but one period out of the 12 games he has started. He has shown improved abilities to get up and down, much improved anticipation (few rebounds) and a practiced ability with the puck out of the crease. He is a big reason why Brandon has 5 wins; he has held them in games they shouldn’t be even close. Brandon has been outshot by their opponents 422 to 355. Cruz has been a wall.
Ray Fraser – this 5’10”, 177 pound Calgarian was named the AJHL’s most valuable player after a very successful year with the Lloydminster Blazers, then was expected to spend this year with Seattle. Fraser was shown the door as Seattle picked up Fomitchev from the Calgary Hitmen and Brandon gladly scooped him up. He is 19 years old. Hmmmmm. Could Hodson be going to Calgary? Calgary doesn’t have the goaltending to get them the Memorial Cup, Brandon does twice over with Cruz and Hodson. Fraser is Brandon’s backup for sure. So Brandon needs a solid defenseman and some size and Calgary’s got it. Stay tuned folks.
Mark Ardelan – one of the Wheaties many 16 year olds, Ardelan has not received much ice time up until the last 4 games. At 5’10” and 200 lbs he is more than physically equipped to play in this league. His first game he was dressed he played wing. This kid has above average offensive awareness, is difficult to knock off the puck in the corners and loves to finish the check. He was one of the better forwards on the ice. If I were Coach Lowes I would convert him to a winger; this kid is smart and versatile. Ardelan because of injuries has now been put back onto defense, but if the coaching staff saw what I saw, then make him a forward on a line with Twordik and Goldade ASAP.
Daniel Tetrualt – was to be one of the go to guys. Through the 1st eight games his go got up and went. Tetrault seemed to be forcing the issue, trying too hard to make up for any deficit in a game and only just added to the turnovers and mistakes. Within the last few games he has settled down and is now playing like he can. He is now stepping up into the play at the right moment and also laying down some big open ice hits.
Brett Thurston – Brett Thurston is presently one of the walking wounded. So far this year when he has played, he has been Brandon’s best defenseman. He is showing improved quickness to the boards and back. Thurston is also demonstrating more strength against larger opponents, pair this with the balance he has always had and you have an effective d-zone defenseman. In transition he has shown wise judgment on the first pass and patience to wait for the opportunities to present themselves from his own end. He is filling into odd man up rushes and beginning to be a threat there. He has not been used on the powerplay much yet…this puzzles me, I think he has shown more than others and might be more effective.
Travis Young – another of the peach-fuzz kids, only 16 years old, Young reminds me so much of a 1st year Burke Henry; a little awkward in skating style, slight but wirey and incredible anticipation to create opportunities for others with the puck. What he doesn’t have physically, yet, he makes up for in great hockey sense. Keep an eye on him.
Brett Dickie – more peach-fuzz. I mentioned in an earlier article he lacked the confidence in his game to stick this year. Too bad kid, gotta stay, work it out, got too many injuries. He is beginning to come around and is beginning to play a regular defense pairing and has been solid defensively. He has yet to really step up too much yet, but in the last game before the Wheaties Pac-Coast road trip, he did just that and potted a nice goal.
Richard Mueller – out with the dreaded concussion presently, Mueller only had only one real bad game to his credit and was the Wheaties leading scorer until that point. Now very active on the forecheck, with high tempo, high in your face approach. He is always an offensive threat. Again I will mention, he needs to balance his game off by involving his teammates more in his attack, and then he will take off as a true offensive force.
Brett Girard – is the most disappointing player in a Wheat Kings uniform this year. He reeks of skill and ability, but is very light on his skates. I see lots of circles, stick checks, shyness for the corners, not finishing checks and a forcing/lack of patience to create. I believe his babying of his shoulder injury during a large part of last year has ingrained bad habits into his game. He needs to work harder and enter no-mans land much like Aaron Goldade had to over the previous seasons. Girard can’t rely on his obvious skating and skill alone.
Brad Twordik – is the Wheaties leading points man so far. When he first returned from the St. Louis Blues camp, he was sluggish and ineffective for two games. He then returned to the fiery, take no prisoners, team guy he really truly is. The only negative I can see is he has bulked up too much and has lost some of his quickness that he had his first year in the league. Can one change this? He needs to get his foot speed back somehow.
J.D. Kehler – injured until the Pac-Coast trip so I have not observed him. His first game back in the line-up against Prince George he potted an important goal towards a Wheaties win. His physical, forechecking style will be a much welcome addition for the Wheat Puffs.
Les Borsheim – now an Assistant Captain for the Wheaties, Borsheim continues to progress. With his increase in role and ice time, his unfamiliarity with this role has shown the rough edges on his game. This is due to the interruptions from last season, which have hampered his development. His first passes out of the zone are a touch late, a touch tight or too shallow, but nothing too bad has occurred due to his mobility. He will continue to improve in all facets of his game and would be a wise free agent signing for a Pro team looking for a project player with potential. His strength and newfound spirit for the game are undeniable.
Petr Kudrna – my previous stories suggested he was a pretty butterfly on skates. He was put out of action due to a cruel check from behind for a few games and upon his return has morphed into a more involved player. He is now initiating contact, going East/West instead of making pretty circles and looking very effective as an offensive player. This has carried over onto the Pac-Coast tour. Someone must have told him it’s better to be a giver than a receiver in hockey.
Colin McCrae – yet another Rook. He is a smart player with good strength and balance. He doesn’t mind the rough going and will stick his nose into painful territory. Offensively his timing is bit off and it’s only a matter of time before he elevates his stats.
Aaron Goldade – Goldade has been Brandon’s most consistent forward and works hard shift in shift out. Congratulations Mr. Goldade, keep it up. He still doesn’t have scorers hands but he has found the secret to success at any level of hockey, an elevated and consistent level of performance.
Mitchell Virostek – yup, another Rook. Is a gritty player with good physical tools and work ethic. He is a step slow and must work on his foot speed in order to become a threat in this league. His ice time has been reduced from the beginning of the season due to this fact.
Jan Fadrny – Jan started the season with a horrible string of games and looked to be a bust for an import. Suddenly he is doing the things he needs to do, see Kudrna’s notes above. Has now become effective by being more direct.
Jamie Muswagon – Rook. Was sent back to his midget team, then the old Wheat King Injury Scythe cut down enough players for him to get another chance. Pleasant, slashing, go to the net style; not pretty but it works. Looks like he’ll stick now.
Jordin Tootoo – this guy is Eskimo Art – I mean this guy is a piece of work. He takes “giving is better than receiving” to an art form. If you are a Wheat King fan or Don Cherry, you would love this guy. If you are the opposition or some “can’t we all just get along” type, you despise him. Took on a much bigger Colton Orr from the Swift Current Broncos and made him eat knuckle sandwiches. I’m glad he’s on our side. Along with his flamboyant side we also have a very solid little hockey player. Strong on his skates, physically strong, good quickness, can carry speed, good vision and anticipation. As time goes on his O’stats will climb. Did I mention I’m glad he’s on our side? Oh ya, and by the way he’s another 16 year old Rook
Mike Wirll – injured early in the season. He is on the DL for a while longer. No real evaluation could be made.
Cory Unser – very weak in the first four games of the season, he has now rebounded to play solid defensively. He is also stepping up into the play and being a threat.
Ryan Craig – has not left the ice since the beginning of the season, or at least it seems like it. He must be playing 30 minutes a game. He along with Goldade has been one of the go to vets up front. Craig is really showing why he is a top prospect this years NHL entry draft. He plays effectively in every situation and he has blown my knock from last year of no stamina all to hell by never leaving the ice surface.
Randy Ponte – Ponte is now putting the puck in the net and with his punishing forechecking style is creating opportunities for others. He is not taking himself out of the game by taking all comers on and wisely saving his fisticuff prowess for those truly deserving. Coming along nicely. He is now an on ice and bench leader.
Kevin Harris – after a disastrous first game where he tried to do too much, Harris has rebounded to put in some very effective D’ice time. He is showing his skill as the straight man on the power play and has returned to his model of efficiency role at even strength. Even though he is not physical in style, little gets by him. Almost forgot, Rook.
Ryan Diduck – really churns up the ice. Hasn’t created much, but he’s a real ice pick. He needs to anticipate the play instead of following it around so much in order to increase his effectiveness overall. Yup, Rook.
The Brandon Wheat Kings are the best Midget Hockey Team I have seen in the WHL. As a matter of fact they are the first Midget team I have seen with the ability to win. Neat stuff.
I look forward to the Wheat Kings string of home games coming up next week. Stay tuned little guy, underdog fans, this team is for you.