The Brandon Wheat Kings are going out of their way to show that the hype was warranted.
Expectations were high coming into the Western Hockey League season and after a slight stumble out of the gate, the Wheaties are among the hottest teams as the stretch drive kicks into high gear, posting a record of 25-5-2 since Dec. 5.
"We've had all four lines going and everyone has been scoring," Wheat Kings forward Matt Calvert said in a telephone interview yesterday. "Our defence and goaltending is playing equally as good. It's been a good little run here. We wanted to worry about getting better in the second half because we didn't have the start that we wanted to have."
Going through some adversity during the first half is serving the Wheat Kings well.
"We knew we were a talented team coming into the year, but we had to out-work teams and play more of a simple game," said Calvert. "We were trying to be too fancy because we do have talent. We dumbed our game down a bit and it's worked out real good for us."
On Friday, the Wheat Kings had a solid effort, but fell 4-2 to the Eastern Conference-leading Calgary Hitmen.
"The bounces weren't going for us, but we worked hard and learned some things from the loss," said Calvert. "We know where we match up against the best team of our conference and we know what we have to do better to get ready for the playoffs."
The Wheat Kings are within striking distance of the Saskatoon Blades for first place in the East Divison and are beginning to feel like they could do some damage come playoff time.
Brandon opens a three-game Saskatchewan-based road trip tonight against the Prince Albert Raiders and return home for a game against the Swift Current Broncos next Saturday.
CROSSOVER IN PLAY: When the Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoffs begin, the crossover will be implemented for the first time.
Due to the struggles of the Winnipeg South Blues, the fifth-place team in the Sher-Wood Division will go head-to-head with the first-place club in the Addison Division, the Winnipeg Saints.
That team has yet to be determined, since the Waywayseecappo Wolverines and Neepawa Natives are battling for fourth in the Sher-Wood Division.
"It was felt that in previous years one division was much stronger than the other, and a good club was forced to miss the playoffs," MJHL commissioner Kim Davis said in a press release. "The crossover format not only makes it interesting for the fans, but also allowed a deserving team to make the playoffs."
The MJHL regular season wraps up on Feb. 25.