One game, one win. The Winnipeg experiment is working for the Brandon Wheat Kings -- on the ice, at least.
Winnipeggers Lance Monych and Codey Burki both had a goal and an assist, and Winkler native Eric Fehr scored his league-leading 39th goal as the Wheat Kings trounced the Saskatoon Blades 7-3 last night in an important WHL clash at MTS Centre.
It may have been Brandon's first regular-season game in Winnipeg since 1994, but the fans didn't come out in droves to see it. The announced crowd was only 3,882, and that included approximately 1,000 patrons in private suites.
That made for a quaint gathering.
The Wheaties averaged almost 6,000 fans for playoff games at Winnipeg Arena over the last decade, and they decided to host four games at MTS Centre this season in an attempt to boost their weekday attendance.
"I thought that we would probably draw a little bit better, just given the crowds that we've had here in the past," said Kelly McCrimmon, the Wheaties coach, GM and owner. "I'm not familiar with how the roads were as we approached game time."
The roads were not pretty, as freezing rain and drizzle capped off a snowy afternoon, making area highways downright ugly.
For those who did make it downtown last night, they saw the Wheat Kings (23-14-5-1) get to within seven points of the East Division-leading Blades (25-14-5-4). Brandon has five games in hand and hosts Saskatoon again tomorrow night, but that battle will happen at the Keystone Centre in the Wheat City.
"We're really trying to climb up in the standings on these guys, and we know these games are important," said Fehr, who also had two assists.
Two-point outings don't come around too often for Burki, who was Brandon's first-round pick in the 2002 bantam draft. Having at least 10 family members in the crowd certainly didn't hurt his cause.
"They're all out there cheering for me, so it's nice to know," said Burki, 17. "It was a lot of fun. It was great. Some guys were nervous, but I felt good out there.
"It's my hometown. I didn't want to get nervous about it. I just wanted to go play and have fun, and that's what I did."
In fact, the Wheaties five Winnipeg players combined for three goals and six points.
Jakub Sindel, Ryan Stone, Tim Konsorada (who also had two helpers) and Winnipeg's Steven Later added goals for Brandon, which led 3-1 and 4-2 by periods.
Bjorn Svensson, Tyson Sievert and Zdenek Bahensky replied for the Blades.