Playoff pressure and high expectations are nothing new to Tyler Plante.
What is new is the strange position his team is in this spring.
"The last couple years I've been on teams that were considered contenders for the championship and made huge playoff runs," the second-year Brandon Wheat Kings goaltender said yesterday.
Thanks to the Royal Winter Fair in Brandon this week, the Wheaties will be at the MTS Centre tonight (7 p.m.), taking on the Moose Jaw Warriors in the opening round series of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1.
Most Brandon eyes will be on Plante this spring as the netminder tries to equal his past two post season performances. Last season as a WHL rookie, he helped lead the Wheat Kings to the league final.
Two seasons ago, he led the AAA Midget Wheaties to the national title.
In fact, it's been awhile since Plante has been on a team that wasn't a favourite to win it all. That being said, Brandon finished the season with a 30-32-6-4 record, good for fourth in the East Division and 26 points behind the first-place Warriors.
"You can really use this role to your advantage," said Plante, who after a slow start finished the year with 25 wins and a 3.32 GAA in 60 games. "Not a lot of people are expecting you to go and win a game in Moose Jaw or something like that. It's all surprises and anything can happen.
"Underdog stories are always the best," he added. "You look at the Calgary Flames in the '04 season. Hopefully we can get on a roll like that, but right now, it's just game-by-game."
After dropping a 5-1 disaster to the Warriors in Game 1 of the series Friday night, the Wheaties bounced back with a solid effort on Saturday. Choking the dangerous Moose Jaw attack with solid defensive play and a 39-save performance from Plante (17 in the third period), Brandon earned the split with a 2-1 win.
Plante, Florida's second round pick (32nd overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, felt that blowout loss will set the tone for the series and reminded the Wheat Kings to focus on their own defence-first style.
"We really over-respected them in a way," the 18-year-old said. "You have to respect a team like Moose Jaw because they are such a dynamic team, but in another sense you have to play your own game.
"We realized that we had to play like we can. That's what we did and it worked out a lot better."
With the Manitoba Moose playing tomorrow and Wednesday nights at the MTS Centre, Game 4 of the Brandon/Moose Jaw series will not go until Thursday night.