Big blueliner has Brandon believing

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

The Brandon Wheat Kings are understandably excited.

As hosts of the 2010 Memorial Cup, the Wheaties are guaranteed a spot in junior hockey's national showcase.

"It's a big deal for the city of Brandon," says defenceman Keith Aulie. "Everyone's really excited to have the Memorial Cup next year."

Well, not everyone. Aulie's not exactly doing cartwheels.

The 19-year-old Calgary Flames prospect will, in all likelihood, be turning pro next season.

So, if the 6-foot-6, 222-lb. monster wants to play in the Memorial Cup, he'll have to get there the old-fashioned way: By earning it.

"Yeah, I guess so," Aulie said of this year's tourney in Rimouski, Que..

And that's not a far-fetched scenario.

The Wheat Kings have won 14 of their last 17 games and find themselves six points back of the equally red-hot Saskatoon Blades for top spot in the Eastern Division.

The club turned a corner after the Christmas break proximately when Aulie returned from Team Canada's world junior squad.

The Rouleau, Sask., product said it took a while for the Wheat Kings to gel.

"We started playing as a team," Aulie said. "We had some guys who were gone for different reasons, world juniors, injuries, stuff like that.

"That really forced the guys to play as a team, to play as one."

Aulie has five goals and 24 points in 44 games but it's his defensive game that has made the Wheat Kings captain a legitimate pro prospect.

He was paired with Kelowna Rockets Tyler Myers -- who also stands 6-foot-6 -- on the Team Canada blueline to form what quickly became the squad's shutdown duo.

The world junior experience, he said, made him a better player.

"It was getting used to playing with a lot of pressure on you," Aulie said. "There's a lot of people watching and a lot of people rooting for you.

"To play in front of all those people, remain composed and play your game, that was the biggest thing I learned."

"Any time you can play for your country, and to win the gold medal on home soil, it's a pretty amazing experience.

"We made it exciting. I think we gave everybody some high blood pressure. It wasn't pretty at times, but we got it done, so that's all that matters."

Aulie took some time to recuperate after the emotional world junior win.

"You don't really realize until a week or so after -- once you come down from Cloud 9 -- how exhausted you actually are.

"It takes a lot out of you. It's a month of a lot of hard work and preparation."

He and the rest of the Wheat Kings have another three months of hard work ahead of them as they take a run at the 2009 Memorial Cup.


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