Wheaties turning it around

ADAM WAZNY -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

It's usually around this time when New Year's resolutions turn into empty promises, kicked to the curb only to be recycled again next January.

The Brandon Wheat Kings are staying true to themselves.

The Western Hockey League club, off to a dreadful 11-20-4-1 start to the season, have turned it around the last five weeks by picking up points in 11 of their last 15 games for a record of 8-4-1-2.

The reason: defensive resolve.

'STARTING TO SEE RESULTS'

"We've really turned it around together defensively," Brandon goaltender Tyler Plante said yesterday. "Everyone knows what we have to do in our end, and I think we're starting to see some results now."

The Wheat Kings take on the Lethbridge Hurricanes (21-24-2-4) at MTS Centre tonight.

While the netminder quickly points to the players in front of him for the success of late, it's hard to ignore what the 18-year-old has done since New Year's Day.

In 12 appearances, the Florida Panthers prospect (32nd overall in the 2005 NHL entry draft) has compiled a 7-4 record with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. Compare that to his numbers earlier this winter (10-20, 3.88 GAA and a .890 save percentage) and it's easy to see why the Brandonite is feeling a lot better about his club's poor start.

"My stats are a reflection of the team's play. They should get most of the credit," he said. "I don't think I've ever had a season like this before.

"Things weren't working out."

No, they weren't.

TRADED LEADING SCORER

So head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon did something at the Jan. 10 trade deadline, shipping leading scorer Derek LeBlanc and a draft pick to Calgary for defenceman Dustin Kohn.

Kohn, a second-round pick of the New York Islanders in '05, has made an immediate impact, shoring up the blue-line and taking full advantage of the extra minutes he's getting in Brandon.

What this added defensive attention means to the Wheat Kings as far as the rest of the year is concerned is anyone's guess.

The battle for the final playoff spot is underway, with Prince Albert just two points back of fourth-place Brandon in the East Division, but the goaltender is encouraged by the January returns.

A late-season push is now a possibility.

Plante's not making any promises, though.

"We're trying to make the playoffs, but now we're starting to see we might be able to do a little better than that," he said.

Game time at the MTSC is 7 p.m.


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