Wheaties expect battle

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

This is the 16th time in 17 years that the Brandon Wheat Kings have qualified for the WHL playoffs.

It also marks the 11th consecutive season that the Kootenay Ice have advanced to post-season play.

Yet, this is the first time the two teams have ever faced each other in the extra season.

"We've had a good season and are really looking forward to the playoffs," Wheat Kings head coach Kelly McCrimmon said before Brandon played host to the Ice in the first of a best-of-seven quarterfinal at Westman Place last night.

The Wheat Kings looked strong in the opener, cruising to a 7-2 victory.

"Kootenay had a real good season, too. They're a young team that has overachieved every step of the way. They keep finding ways to get it done."

The Wheaties finished third in the Eastern Conference with a 48-19-3-2 record while Kootenay was sixth at 35-29-2-6. However, the two split their four-game season series 2-2 with two of them decided by a shootout.

"Our games have been very close and it'll be a good series," McCrimmon predicted.

The Wheat Kings are starting to get healthy at the right time. Forward Scott Glennie has recovered from a broken elbow and McCrimmon was hoping to get captain Keith Aulie back from a broken hand.

"It's (elbow) feeling great right now, at the right time," said Glennie, a Winnipeg native. "We have a good team and I hope we can go far. We have the work ethic and we ended the season on a high note."

Little experience

However, neither of the Brandon netminders has any playoff experience, which could be a cause for concern.

"It's junior hockey and there's lots of guys with no playoff experience," McCrimmon scoffed. "Andrew Hayes is our starter and he was with us (as the backup) last year. There's a difference between being there and being a rookie."

All of Kootenay's netminders are rookies.

Hayes was 29-11-1 with a 2.82 GAA and .899 save percentage during the regular season.

"Andy's picked it up in the last 10 games and we're pretty confident in him," Glennie assured.

When Glennie was out with injury, rookie Winnipegger Mark Stone replaced him rather admirably. Stone was a member of the Winnipeg Thrashers AAA midget team that went unbeaten during last year's regular season.

"I've been given a good opportunity here," said Stone, who expressed some caution over the Ice. "They play real hard and fire pucks at the net. We just need to shoot the puck and take advantage of their inexperience."

The Wheaties will have to be wary of Kootenay forward Andrew Bailey, its leading scorer (28 goals and 61 points), and Ian Barteaux, who is a force on the blueline.

Aside from Glennie and Aulie, Brandon will be led by 17-year-old Brayden Schenn, its leading scorer with 32 goals and 88 points. Andrew Clark led the club with 40 goals.

"Kootenay plays a tight-checking game and really capitalizes on mistakes," McCrimmon said. "They are very opportunistic offensively. We have a good offensive team with good skill up front. We're pretty well-balanced."

Game 2 is in Brandon tonight with the series shifting to Cranbrook, B.C., on Tuesday and Wednesday. Should the series go the limit, Game 7 will be played at the MTS Centre on March 31 because the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair will then occupy the Keystone Centre.

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca


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