Wheaties have no fear

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Don't let the record and the fourth-place finish fool you: The Brandon Wheat Kings are playing some solid hockey heading into the WHL playoffs.

The Wheaties are in Moose Jaw, Sask., tonight to kick off their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series against Winnipeg's Dustin Boyd and the Warriors.

Game 2 goes tomorrow night in The Jaw, then the series shifts to Winnipeg's MTS Centre for Game 3 on Monday and Game 4 on Thursday.

Even though the fourth-place Wheat Kings finished 26 points behind the first-place Warriors, Moose Jaw had just five more points than Brandon over the last four months of the regular season.

"We've won a lot of games in that stretch of time, and we're just going to go in there expecting to win," Wheaties forward and Winnipegger Codey Burki said yesterday from the Wheat City.

Brandon, which lost to Kelowna in the league final last year, stumbled out of the gate this season with a 5-16-4-1 record, but Burki and Co. turned things around and finished with a 30-32-6-4 mark, including victories in six of their last eight.

"The biggest thing was our guys felt that we were going to be like last year's team and have leading scorers in the league and get by games winning 6-5 or 8-7 or whatever," said Burki, who led the Wheaties with 61 points in 70 games. "We're just not that kind of team. We found out later on that we're a defensive team and defence is first."

Not only did the loss of snipers Eric Fehr, Lance Monych, Tim Konsorada and Ryan Stone create an offensive void, it left a leadership hole as well.

Burki is more than willing to step up, but the entire Brandon lineup boasts a whopping 381 games of playoff experience.

Sophomore netminder Tyler Plante represents 24 of those contests, all of which came during last year's run, and he's found his groove after a sluggish start to this season. Plante had a 2.91 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage in eight appearances this month.

HIGH COMFORT LEVEL

"Having him in our net, with the experience of 24 games a year ago, gives us a real high comfort level that he'll be a solid player for our team in the playoffs," head coach Kelly McCrimmon said.

Other signs of hope for the Wheaties include their 4-4 record against the Warriors this season and an all-time record of 8-1 at the MTS Centre.

"We come in there knowing that we can win," said Wheaties forward Ryan Reaves, who also hails from Winnipeg.

Therefore, Reaves said, a split in Moose Jaw would be huge for his team's chances.

"It would be really big, because not only does it send a message," he said, "but it brings us momentum coming back into Winnipeg."


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