Wheaties whip Raiders

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

BRANDON -- After two failed attempts in the last three seasons, the Brandon Wheat Kings are finally off to the Western Hockey League final for the first time since 1998.

Lance Monych of Winnipeg and Jeff Topilko both scored twice as the Wheat Kings dominated the Prince Albert Raiders 5-1 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final last night at a raucous Keystone Centre in Brandon.

The Wheat Kings, who lost to Portland in the 1998 final, will meet the defending Memorial Cup champion Kelowna Rockets in the best-of-seven championship, which begins Friday night in Kelowna.

Games 3, 4 and 5, if necessary, will be played in Brandon next Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

Last night's triumph was especially sweet for Wheat King veterans like Monych, Eric Fehr of Winkler, Tim Konsorada and Ryan Stone, as they were with the team when it lost the 2002 and 2003 conference finals to the Red Deer Rebels.

"We looked at each other -- me, Fehrsy, Timmy and all the guys who have been here for awhile -- and we just said, 'Finally,'" Monych gushed after the conference trophy presentation. "We had two cracks at it, and I guess it was third time lucky.

"It's sweet. I get goosebumps thinking about it."

Brandon hopped on the bus at 1 o'clock this morning, bound for the B.C. interior.

"I've never felt like this before," said Winnipegger and Wheaties defenceman Steven Later. "I'm not the type of guy who grew up winning championships his whole life, so it's pretty sweet."

Raiders forward Brad Erickson quieted the bulk of last night's crowd -- the gathering of 5,895 was the third-largest in Wheat Kings history -- when he scored on his team's first shot of the game just 1:01 into the contest.

Moments later, Kyle Chipchura had a chance to put P.A. up 2-0 when he was staring at a wide-open net, but he half-fanned on the shot, and the puck grazed the cross-bar.

"That would have made the hill a little bit steeper for us," Brandon head coach Kelly McCrimmon said.

After that, the Raiders seemed to lose their spark.

Monych, on the power play, and Topilko scored at 7:27 and 11:42, respectively, of the first, and Brandon outshot Prince Albert 14-10 in the opening period.

The Wheat Kings didn't let up in the second, either, outshooting the Raiders 18-5 and taking a 3-1 lead on Jakub Sindel's sixth of the post-season.

The Keystone erupted midway through the third when Topilko converted a 2-on-0 with Sami Sandell, Monych scored an empty-netter -- his playoff-leading 17th -- with 3:01 to go, and then chants of "Hey goodbye" and "Start the bus" began in earnest.

The Raiders were trying to become the first team in WHL history to make it to the WHL final after a sub-.500 record during the regular season.

Prince Albert goalie Rejean Beauchemin, a 19-year-old Winnipegger, did all he could to lift the Raiders to their third straight series upset, but Brandon's offence was just too much.

"I don't know what to tell you. It hurts," said Beauchemin, who made 35 saves. "We had them there for a bit, and we took our foot off the gas. They got guys that can pull the trigger, and that's what happened.

"I did my best."

Brandon rookie netminder Tyler Plante made 30 saves.

AROUND THE GLASS: Kelowna and Brandon have a combined 19 Manitobans on their rosters ... Brandon was 45-21-5-1 during the regular season, while Kelowna was 45-13-12-2 ... Shaw Cable will broadcast the entire WHL final. Games 1 and 2 are Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m.


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