Wheaties divided and conquered

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

It has been the type of roll coaches often only dream about.

But as the Brandon Wheat Kings have evolved from contenders to among the elite teams in the Western Hockey League, head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon has found a way to keep the letdowns to a minimum.

Going into tonight's 7 o'clock game at the MTS Centre against the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Wheat Kings have won 17 of 18 contests and 19 of 21.

The remarkable run allowed the Wheaties to pass the Saskatoon Blades and cruise to an East Division title. However, with only three games left, the Wheat Kings (43-20-5-1, 92 points) are hoping to finish first overall in the Eastern Conference.

Brandon is ahead of the Medicine Hat Tigers and Lethbridge Hurricanes and believes it will need to win out to secure top spot in the conference.

"We've been fortunate in that we've had so much at stake," McCrimmon said in a telephone interview yesterday. "Even though we were putting some wins together, we hadn't accomplished anything, in terms of finishing first in the East Division and now we're trying to finish first in the conference. We were 13 points out of first place when we started to push. The urgency of the next game just kind of kept us playing hard."

At the beginning of the run, McCrimmon made a calculated decision to spread out his top offensive weapons, splitting up sniper Eric Fehr and top set-up man Ryan Stone.

Fehr is playing with Jakub Sindel and captain Tim Konsorada, while Stone is centring Lance Monych and Derek LeBlanc.

"We're still led by our top guys, but we've got more contributions from our third and fourth lines, and we gained confidence as we went along," said McCrimmon.

Oddly enough, the turnaround began after a woeful swing through Alberta at the end of January, when the Wheat Kings went 0-4 against Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Calgary and were beaten handily in three of the four contests.

"We had a tough learning process there," said Monych. "We went through adversity to become a better team. It was an important turning point in the year.

"Ever since then, we've been rolling and confidence is flowing. We just seemed to find a way, all the time.

"We had a lot of people doubting we'd even catch Saskatoon, and that kind of stuff fuels you."

PERFECT RECORD: The Wheat Kings will be trying to extend a perfect record at the MTS Centre this season.

In three previous outings, the Wheat Kings outscored opponents to the tune of 16-7.

As for the season series with the Warriors, the Wheat Kings are 6-0-1, but many of the games have been close, especially the ones after Christmas.

The Wheat Kings host the Warriors on March 27 at the MTS Centre in Game 2 of their opening-round playoff series. The series opens on March 25 at the Keystone Centre in Brandon.

"We've got to let them know that what's happened during the year is hopefully what's going to happen in playoffs," said Monych. "We've got to set the tone, set the pace and let them know it's going to be a battle."

"We don't want to give them anything to draw positives from," added McCrimmon.

CHASING HISTORY: If the trio of Fehr, Stone and Konsorada can maintain the top three spots in the WHL scoring derby, it will mark the first time it's been done since 1978-79, when Brian Propp, Ray Allison and Laurie Boschman accomplished the feat.

MANITOBA FLAVOUR: The Warriors roster includes three Manitobans -- Dustin Boyd of Winnipeg, Jacob Dietrich of Deloraine and Stuart Kerr of Carberry.


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