Third time a charm?

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:43 AM ET

First there was 2002.

Then there was 2003.

The Brandon Wheat Kings really don't want it to happen again in 2005.

The Wheaties are playing in their third WHL Eastern Conference final in four years, but they haven't played in a league championship series since falling to the Portland Winter Hawks in 1998.

The Red Deer Rebels rained on Brandon's parade in '02 and '03, but the Wheaties are back for more.

If they're going to punch out the Prince Albert Raiders in the conference final this time around, they will need to get great efforts and solid leadership from their Big Four -- Winnipeg's Lance Monych, Winkler's Eric Fehr, Ryan Stone and captain Tim Konsorada.

"Both Lance and Timmy have played over 300 games in the league, as well as five years in the playoffs," Brandon head coach Kelly McCrimmon said yesterday. "Those guys are the type of guys that you rely on this time of year.

"In our (conference semifinal) series against Calgary, the playoff experience we had helped us."

The Wheat Kings and Raiders are tied 1-1 in the best-of-seven conference final after the opening two games in Brandon over the weekend. The Wheat Kings won 4-2 on Friday, but the Raiders responded with a 3-2 triumph on Saturday.

Games 3 and 4 go tomorrow and Wednesday night in Prince Albert. The series returns to Brandon's Keystone Centre on Friday for Game 5.

Monych, 20, and Konsorada, 21, have been with the club for five seasons, while Fehr, 19, and Stone, 20, have been around for four campaigns. Monych and Konsorada have signed pro contracts with the Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively, so there are more than a few folks in the Wheat City who are happy about the cancelled NHL season.

Monych leads the WHL in playoff scoring with 11 goals. Fehr is second with 10 tallies, and his 22 points are tops in the post-season. Stone is second in playoff points with 20, while Konsorada is getting his groove back after missing the first round with a shoulder injury.

Toss in the fact that rugged defenceman Riley Day, acquired from Medicine Hat in January, won a WHL title last season, and the Wheaties have been there, done that.

Now they just have to do it.

"Those things all add to the mix," McCrimmon said. "I don't know that it becomes a difference-maker, but it's another thing that does help prepare the rest of our group."

Unlike their two conference final losses to the Rebels, the Wheat Kings are a higher seed than the Raiders and therefore have home-ice advantage. Well, they used to have it.

They will need to gain at least a split in Prince Albert to get that edge back.

McCrimmon knows it won't be easy.

"We had a number of opportunities to tie the game (Saturday) and weren't able to get the equalizer after falling down 3-0," McCrimmon said. "The games in Prince Albert will be similar."


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