Hurry up and Wheat

SCOTT FISHER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

The Brandon Wheat Kings have a free pass.

No matter how well they do during the rest of the WHL season and the playoffs, they're the only team in the CHL that knows it's going to the Memorial Cup.

But the Wheaties, who will host this spring's championship tournament, insist they have plenty of motivation down the stretch.

Superstar centre Brayden Schenn said his club wants to get to the Memorial Cup the old fashioned way -- by earning its spot.

"You don't want to look at it that way," Schenn said of the free ticket. "You want to win it all.

"It wouldn't be the greatest feeling if you lost out early and went to the Memorial Cup. It would feel like it was the cheap way of getting there.

"We're looking to win the league just like every other team is."

An early exit from the WHL playoffs would leave the Wheat Kings with a lot of time on their hands.

A month or more with no games -- just practice after practice -- would not be much fun. And it's not the best way to stay game-ready.

"Last year, I think Rimouski lost out in the third round," Schenn said. "They had a little bit of a break, so I don't know if that affected them.

"You never want to have time off before a big event like that."

Wheat Kings owner/GM/head coach Kelly McCrimmon said he hasn't had to deal with motivational issues with his squad.

"We've been fortunate," McCrimmon said. "I haven't sensed that with our team.

"Maybe a little bit at the start of the year, when I didn't think we were as good as we needed to be. Perhaps that was an adjustment period where we got used to the fact this was the season we would be the host.

"We were a bit off prior to the trade deadline, but I don't think that was our guys taking anything for granted."

McCrimmon said he has tried to do the same things with this team as he has with previous squads.

"For the most part, we've treated our season as business as usual," he said. "We've focused on a lot of the things we would have any other year.

"We want to do as well in the Western Hockey League playoffs as we can.

"We're approaching the balance of the season and the entry into the playoffs the same way as all the other contending teams are."

Lengthy playoff runs inevitably take their toll on teams as injuries pile up and fatigue sets in.

In that respect, a lengthy pre-Memorial Cup layoff might not be all that bad.

But no team is going to go in the tank on purpose.

"I don't think that's how athletes are wired," McCrimmon said of his players saving their energy for the big tourney. "We hope we have an opportunity to compete for a league championship.

"That's sure not something we've talked about. We want to be tired when the Memorial Cup starts, but still win it."

McCrimmon has done an admirable job of fine-tuning his powerful lineup.

"From a personnel standpoint, I think we're comfortable with our team," said McCrimmon, whose club has won five straight.

"We added six players to our team from last year."

The Wheaties picked up Finn Toni Rajala and Swede Alexander Urbom in the import draft.

They then picked up Calgaryborn goaltender Jacob DeSerres from the Seattle Thunderbirds, winger Shayne Wiebe from Kamloops and centre Brent Raedeke from Edmonton.

At the trade deadline, McCrimmon got Team Canada world junior d-man Travis Hamonic from Moose Jaw.

"I like our makeup," he said. "That, alone, doesn't win you anything. But in terms of having a group we're looking forward to working with, we're satisfied with our personnel."

Schenn, who also played for Canada at the world juniors, said he's refocused on the task at hand. He had two points in his first three games back, but has picked it up since then, chalking up 11 points in the last seven outings.

"It took a couple of games," he said. "You find yourself pretty fatigued because it's a long tournament and you don't get much of a break.

"You see some guys who have that slump where they're hot going into world junior camp and then it takes some time to get it back."

SCOTT.FISHER@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos