Wheat Kings taking next step

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

When discussing the 2009-10 edition of the Brandon Wheat Kings hockey club, depth seems to be the operative word.

With six players remaining in NHL training camps and a couple others on the mend, the Wheat Kings won't be at full strength when they open the 2009-10 regular season on the road tomorrow night against the Prince Albert Raiders but that doesn't seem to bother the players one bit.

"Everyone is anxious to start playing for real," said Wheat Kings forward Jay Fehr. "There's a lot of expectations around town for the team to do well and we're hoping we can live up to them and have a good year.

A LOT OF VETERANS

"We have a lot of veterans on the team this year and a lot of kids coming up with a lot of talent. We have a lot of depth."

After reaching the Eastern Conference final last spring before bowing out to the Calgary Hitmen, the Wheat Kings are hoping to take it to the next level and enter the 2010 Memorial Cup as Western Hockey League champions rather than the host team.

"We have a little extra experience we gained last year from making it to the conference final," said Wheat Kings forward Mark Stone. "That's huge. Everyone learned about what it takes and that could put us over the hump."

Several pre-season polls figure the Wheat Kings have what it takes to be the class of the league and a quick scan of the roster would support the theory.

One of the question marks is in goal, where Andrew Hayes is back and determined to show he has what it takes to carry the mail.

Part of that commitment meant dropping close to 30 pounds in an effort to improve his conditioning.

While rumours persist the Wheat Kings might want to upgrade the position, head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon said Hayes will get the chance to prove he can be the guy.

"We're comfortable with Andrew. He's worked really hard in the off-season and we think he'll do a real good job for us," said McCrimmon. "Andrew realized he needed to make himself better and conditioning was part of that. He's excited about the opportunity to try and play in a Memorial Cup. That's been a big motivator for him as well."

On the back end, Gilbert Plains product Colby Robak is expected to be the anchor, though he remains in training camp with the Florida Panthers.

Another interesting player to watch is 2009 CHL import draft selection (first round, 23rd overall) Alexander Urbom, a Swedish defenceman who recently signed with the New Jersey Devils.

Although Urbom is eligible to play for the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Lowell, Mass., he is expected to be returned to the Wheat Kings.

As for the forwards, the Wheat Kings are loaded with talent, especially if the trio of Brayden Schenn (Los Angeles Kings), Scott Glennie (Dallas Stars) and Matt Calvert (Columbus Blue Jackets) return.

Glennie has been dealing with a groin injury and might have to spend some time on the sidelines upon his return and the same goes for Finnish forward Toni Rajala, who remains with the Edmonton Oilers but is nursing a knee injury that could keep him out for a few more weeks.

Regardless, firepower isn't expected to be a problem for the Wheat Kings.

"We've got a good nucleus of returning forwards that are going to really step up to give us good secondary scoring and allow us to have depth through four lines," said McCrimmon.

The Wheat Kings home opener goes Sept. 25 against the Swift Current Broncos.

ken.wiebe@sunmedia.ca


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