Wheat Kings keeping track

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

Yes, the old Brandon Wheat Kings have been checking up on the London Knights.

And no, there won't be any hard feelings should the Knights equal, then break the Wheat Kings' 29-game unbeaten streak.

"To me, records are made to be broken," said 43-year-old Don Dietrich, a defenceman with the 1978-79 record-setting Western Hockey League team.

"To me, it would mean the game of hockey would be in a state of regression if nobody was challenging records. Even if it takes 20 years, 25 years or 50 years, at least the game is going in the right direction."

Dietrich, who lives in Deloraine, Man., says it had been years since he thought about what his team did that season, going 24-0-5 before their first loss.

Then three weeks ago, the phone rang. It was a reporter and he informed Dietrich of the Knights' streak to start their OHL season.

"I began to follow them on the Internet, and now I'm getting calls everyday from all over the country," said Dietrich, who did a CBC radio gig yesterday morning with Knights captain Danny Syvret.

"I was so amazed at the composure of that young man. I can see why he makes a good captain."

Dietrich said that while a team has to have the talent to make such an incredible run, "You have to have the will to succeed, but not the attitude that winning is everything.

"When I saw they were being coached by Dale Hunter, I figured they would do well and would have a chance to get to this point."

Listening to Dietrich yesterday, it was easy to see the parallels between the 1978-79 Wheat Kings and the 2004-05 Knights.

The Knights have said that it wasn't until the last week or so they began to think the record was a reality, even though the hype had been building.

It was the same with the Wheat Kings.

"You go along and play and play; you do really well and before you know it, you're pushing for a record," Dietrich said.

And just like there have been nights when it looked like it was over for the Knights in the first period -- they trailed Windsor 3-0 last Friday, only to turn it up a notch on the next shift -- it was the same for the Wheat Kings.

"We had such a good team, night in and night out we took it for granted we were going to win," Dietrich said. "We weren't cocky. We just knew if we were down we could pull it (out)."

It's a little-known fact that the Wheat Kings' run may have ended abruptly and they would have never reached 29 games had Nelson Skalbania, owner of the World Hockey Association's Indianapolis Racers, had his way.

In late October, Skalbania attempted to buy the contracts of Brian Propp and Ray Allison. He offered the Wheat Kings $80,000.

Skalbania then visited Brandon in early November but the offer was again rejected by management.

Brothers Brad and Kelly McCrimmon played on the team. Kelly is now governor, GM and head coach, 26 years after that record-setting season, and he has also been following the Knights.

"I knew London had a good team . . . but I wasn't even aware they were still undefeated until they got to about 20. And I've been following it since that time," McCrimmon told the Brandon Sun.

"My hat's off to their organization. (GM) Mark and Dale Hunter have done a tremendous job with that franchise, not only on the ice but as well off the ice."

Before the Knights' win Saturday in Erie, which was Game 28, McCrimmon said: "I guess, as a current and former Wheat King, I'm hoping they can get to 28 and stop. But if they're able to break our record, I guess records are made to be broken."


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