The 2004-05 season ended in disappointment for the Brandon Wheat Kings as the club dropped the WHL Championship final series to the Kelowna Rockets in five games. The result signaled the end of an exciting era in Wheaties history as the organization graduated a group dubbed the “Fab Five”.
The “Fab Five” included Eric Fehr (WSH), Ryan Stone (PIT), Tim Konsorada (CBJ), Lance Monych (PHX) and Steven Later (Free Agent). Collectively, they brought leadership, scoring and poise to the Wheat Kings. Along the way, their efforts have contributed to the development of a new group of veterans in Brandon. Among them is forward Codey Burki.
“Last season, ‘Burks’ was put into an important role with the departure of our Fab Five,” explained assistant coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk. “He had to assume a more offensive role here. He groomed himself in that role and he’s really taken it upon himself to become a leader on our team.”
Burki, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, produced effectively in the role. The Colorado Avalanche took notice and made Burki their second round selection, 59th overall, at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
“He’s a year older now and after going to pro camp, seeing how those guys carry themselves and how hard they work was a good experience for him,” Gylywoychuk said. “He’s an older guy on the club this year and you can really tell in how he has lead the way to start off this year.”
Heading into the current campaign, Burki had already played a total of 231 regular season and playoff games in a Wheat Kings uniform. In 70 games last season, he scored 24 goals and 47 assists. Through October this season, he’s collected 25 points in 17 games. The importance of a solid season last year has not been lost on Burki.
“Last year I was considered to be one of the top guys here after Fehr and Stone and the guys moved on,” Burki remembered. “We certainly weren’t as good a team as the year before, but I did learn how to step into a leadership role and it helped me prepare for this season as well.”
The Wheaties are clearly a veteran-laden club this season, a certain contender to represent the WHL at the Memorial Cup. The veteran group includes forward Mark Derlago, the nephew of former NHLer Bill Derlago, who is entering his fifth season in Brandon. Import forward Juraj Simek (VAN) and forward Ryan Reaves (STL) bring pro training camp experience to Brandon. Defenseman Dustin Kohn (NYI) and goaltender Tyler Plante (FLA) anchor the backend.
“We’re an old team with a lot of 19-year-olds,” Burki explained. “Having said that, the guys on the team here have a lot of confidence. We’ve had a good start. I think it’s good because we feel like everyone is going to be on the same page out there because we’ve been playing together for a while. We have confidence and chemistry and those are the two biggest things.”
According to Gylywoychuk, the Wheat Kings have become beneficiaries of Burki’s experience at the Avs training camp.
“The biggest thing I see is that now he’s spending more time working on his game on and off the ice,” Gylywoychuk said. “During off days he’s in the gym and on the bike. He’s taking better care of himself. He’s a young man who knows now what he has to do to get to the next level. He’s really improved in these areas since last year and we’re really enjoying watching him develop.”
Burki, who will celebrate his 19th birthday on Nov. 17, agrees his experience with the Avalanche has had an impact on his approach to the game. He better understands the challenges associated with taking the next step and knows what Colorado wants him to do.
“There certainly is a quicker pace there and it seems the pucks are always right on the tape,” Burki recalled. “What can I say, they’re pros. It’s just a lot tougher up there. But when I came back to the WHL, which is a step or two down, it’s certainly a bit easier to play and I have more confidence. That’s the biggest thing so far this season. I’m playing with more confidence.
“Colorado wants me to keep producing offensively here. That’s probably the main part of my game. They’ve asked me to be good defensively, too. They really just want me to become a well-rounded player. I think that’s pretty much what any team wants out of any player.”
While poise and confidence are strong suits for the 6’1, 195-pounder, Burki’s leadership has also become a valuable commodity in Brandon.
“Codey’s not really a rah-rah guy in the dressing room but he definitely leads by example,” Gylywoychuk offered. “He knows he’s going make plays and it’s okay if the others guys score the goals. He’s the guy who knows he’s going to be counted on here. He kills penalties and is on the top power-play unit. He’s on our top forward line with Derlago and Simek. He knows this is his boat to steer and he’s quite excited about it.”
Later this month, Burki will participate in the annual ADT Russia/Canada Challenge as a member of Team WHL. Teammates Kohn and Andrew Clark (’07 Eligible) have also been named to the roster. Both games will be played in British Columbia, on Nov. 29 in Chilliwack and the following night in Kamloops. Having played in the CHL Top Prospects Game last year, Burki is familiar with the expectations at such events.
“It’s an opportunity to play well and show people what I can do,” Burki agreed. “It’s a great honor. At the same time it’s just another game, too. I know the Hockey Canada people are watching me, so I think it’ll be a fun game.”
“I think for Codey and Dustin, they had a pretty good feeling they would be selected for the ADT,” Gylywoychuk said. “It’s something they probably feel is just the next step in maybe making the WJC team. For Clarkie, yeah, there was maybe some extra jump in his step because it really is a great reward for a young guy who has played very well this year.”
For Burki, building on the Wheat Kings storied tradition is a work in progress. According to Gylywoychuk, the importance of contributions by veteran players is not lost on the organization.
“You ask some of these guys and they’ll tell you they’ve been a Wheat King since they started playing hockey,” Gylywoychuk said. “All the minor teams in Brandon are called the Wheat Kings. Those guys watched Wheat Kings games and they wanted to be one of those players and it’s something that is always in the back of their minds. It’s really a feather in their cap when they can play in front of their family and friends every night and I think they take pride in it.”
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.