Later excels just in time

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

Steven Later did the math and the numbers just didn't add up.

There he was, a 20-year-old defenceman with only 69 career games played in the WHL, and a grand total of just five goals and 14 points to his credit.

It was prior to the Brandon Wheat Kings 2004-05 training camp and the rough-and-tumble blue-liner thought it would be "see ya later" in a few days.

"I thought last season was going to be my last year," the Winnipegger said yesterday while preparing for his team's game against the Calgary Hitmen at the MTS Centre tonight at 7. "There were three 20-year-old defencemen in camp (including Andre Blanchette and Tyler Boldt) and two 20-year-old forwards (Tim Konsorada and Lance Monych) who weren't going anywhere, so I thought it would be tough to get a job."

Fortunately, "tough" could be Later's middle name. He earned the lone 20-year-old blue-line position and has since elevated his game well beyond expectations.

In 47 games this year, the former member of the MJHL's Winnipeg South Blues has seven goals, 39 points (good for fourth on the team) and a team-leading 150 penalty minutes.

"Definitely it has been my best year in the Dub," Later said. "I've always had decent offensive skills but for the first couple of seasons my coaches didn't want me to handle the puck. Here, (Wheat Kings coach Kelly McCrimmon) has been supportive and shown a lot of confidence in me."

Later played for the Saskatoon Blades and Prince George Cougars, before being acquired by the Wheat Kings at the trade deadline in 2004.

"He has played real well ever since he got to Brandon," said McCrimmon. "He's been a big part of our offence, a big part of our power play."

"I like to be a guy other guys don't like to play against," added Later, who scored a goal when the Wheat Kings beat the Blades 7-3 at the MTS Centre on Jan. 19.

The Wheat Kings, 25-18-5-1 and 11 points behind the Blades in the race for first place in the East Division, come into tonight's contest feeling better about themselves after a 3-2 overtime win in Calgary (26-17-6) on Sunday. Prior to that, the team lost games to Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge by a combined score of 18-4.

NOTES: Canadian junior star Ryan Getzlaf of the Hitmen, who suffered a concussion in a fight with national team teammate Dion Phaneuf of the Red Deer Rebels last week, has made the trip and might play tonight ... Steinbach's Tyler Harder, a Hitmen defenceman, is day to day with an eye injury but also made the trip.


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