Plante is no green goalie

ADAM WAZNY -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

Winning eight games in a row isn't lost on Brandon coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon.

"February has been a good month for us," he said, qualifying him for the understatement of the week.

The Wheat Kings take on the Regina Pats at MTS Centre tonight (7 o'clock) and are the hottest team in the Western Hockey League right now.

Ten wins in 11 games moved the Wheaties into a first-place tie in the East division with the Saskatoon Blades -- a club they have been chasing the whole season.

While everyone knows about the Brandon offence, the goaltending of rookie Tyler Plante and sophomore Mike Nichol has been the biggest reason for the recent success.

"To an outsider, our goaltending would have been a question mark based on the fact that Mike had played as a backup last year and Tyler was a rookie to the league," McCrimmon said.

The two started the season splitting the duties, but Plante (25-10-2 with a 2.66 GAA and four shutouts) has taken sole possession of the net lately.

Friends on the ice and away from the rink, Plante says having the older Nichol by his side has made the transition to the Western game much easier.

"We've grown up playing together since peewee," the 17-year-old said. "We make a pretty good tandem because the support between us has been excellent.

"It's a great relationship."

As the starting goaltender on the national champion Wheat Kings AAA midget team last year, Plante showed most hockey observers that he was ready to take the next step.

Count McCrimmon in that group, too.

"He came to us with real good credentials," the GM said.

While what Plante has done on the ice may not have been a surprise for McCrimmon and the Wheat Kings this season, one part of his game that has raised some eyebrows is his maturity.

When the NHL cancelled the season and put the entry draft in jeopardy last week, Plante -- who is the fifth-rated North American goaltender by Central Scouting Bureau standards -- wasn't worried about his distant future.

He only concern was catching Saskatoon.

"That's exactly what I'm talking about," McCrimmon added. "He knows what's important."

The Wheat Kings face a Regina club that is also fighting for a position, though not as lofty as what Brandon has in mind.

Battling with Moose Jaw for the final playoff spot in the East, the Pats are three points behind the Warriors and stumble into Winnipeg losers of their last 12 games.

NOTES: Brandon's Eric Fehr leads the league in scoring with 46 goals and 83 points ... Ryan Stone was named the WHL co-player of the week ... Tonight's game will be the first meeting between the clubs since Wheaties defenceman Jon Webb went after Regina's Jordan McGillivray on Feb. 13. Webb received a six-game suspension for his actions in that game.


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