Lockout benefits Wheaties

ADAM WAZNY -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

It turns out there are some benefits to the NHL labour dispute. According to the head coach and general manager of the Brandon Wheat Kings, this winter should see the Western Hockey League retain some high quality players -- players who would otherwise be skating elsewhere.

"If you go across the league, there are probably a dozen players back that might not have been," Kelly McCrimmon said earlier this week. Brandon begins its 2004-05 season tonight when it takes on the Regina Pats at the Keystone Centre.

'GREAT FINAL SEASON'

The Wheat Kings will profit from this scenario by welcoming captain Tim Konsorada back from the Columbus Blue Jackets system. The 20-year-old winger, taken in the sixth round (168th overall) in the 2002 NHL entry draft, missed four months due to a shoulder injury last season.

"It will be a case where he'll want to have a great final season of junior," McCrimmon said.

Brandon will also be looking for big things from forwards Eric Fehr and Ryan Stone.

Fehr (18th overall in the 2003 NHL draft) was one of three 50-goal scorers in the league last year and is starting his final season as a candidate for the world junior program, while Stone (taken 32nd overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003) will be looking to build on his gritty 58-point season a year ago.

"He's the heart and soul on the ice for us," McCrimmon said of Stone. "Those three players will be elite players in the league this season."

Defensively, the Wheaties will be led by their veterans, but aren't sure who two of those players will be.

Teams in the WHL have to cut down to three 20-year-olds by Oct. 14, and with Konsorada already penciled in up front, that means either Tyler Boldt, Steven Later, or Andre Blanchette will be looking for work.

"Our defence will be led by our 20-year-olds," McCrimmon said. "We will have to move one of them prior to the deadline, but our defence as a whole will dictate our season."

Mike Nichol and Tyler Plante will be the two goaltenders, both starting the season with equal playing time.

DERLAGO UPDATE: Second-year forward Mark Derlago returned home this week. The Brandon product fractured the second vertebrae in his neck after an open-ice hit from Regina forward Jordan McGillivray in an exhibition game on Saturday.

McCrimmon on his return to the team: "Keeping him included in the organization will be good therapy for both sides," he said.

Derlago is out for the season. The WHL suspended McGillivray for three games on Wednesday.

LONG DISTANCE PLAN: The Wheat Kings will play four regular season game at the MTS Centre this season. McCrimmon said the reasoning for this is simple.

"We will definitely be playing our first round of playoffs in Winnipeg," he said, alluding to the yearly scheduling conflict with the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair in the spring. "It just gives us a little more familiarity with the new building before we have to play in it."

The dates for the games are Jan. 19, Feb. 2 and 23, and March 16.


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