When the Brandon Wheat Kings opened up their training camp over the Labour Day long weekend, a face that is a fan favourite around town was returning.
Tyler Plante is once again the team’s goaltenders coach, and he will be so for the fourth straight season. He started his junior career in Brandon during the 2003-04 season where he played two games.
Over the next three seasons, Plante played in 162 games between the pipes. He also led the team in net for 41 playoff games. In the 2004-05 season — his first full one with the team — Tyler really solidified himself as a number one goalie with solid numbers.
He had a 2.58 GAA in the regular season to go along with a .907 save percentage. The team ended up going 45-21-5-1 that season, and they won the East Division.
They followed that up by advancing to the league final, where they ultimately lost to the Kelowna Rockets in five games.
“That year still definitely burns when I look back at it,” said Plante. “Losing in the finals is probably the worst thing that could ever happen. It was a great season, but a really crappy ending.”
In the playoffs, Plante played in 24 games and had a 2.94 GAA and a .911 save percentage. He was named to the CHL All-Rookie Team, and he won the Jim Piggot Trophy as the Western Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year.
Tyler would then go on to play 205 regular season games as a professional. They came in the American Hockey League, in Sweden, Norway, England, and in Germany.
His professional career came to an end after the 2015-16 season, where he played 22 games for the Lowen Frankfurt team in Germany. His 2.34 GAA with them was the best in the league. He also won an Italian Championship with Asiago in the 2012-13 season.
These days, Plante doesn’t really spend any less time on the ice, but his role has changed. Instead of making big saves, he’s doing his best to help the Wheat Kings goalies make big saves.
Working as a full-time real estate agent in Brandon, the past four years have allowed Tyler to continue his involvement with the game he loves and the team he has nothing but great things to say about.
“It’s fantastic. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Brandon has always been my hockey family,” said Plante. “Even when I was playing overseas and in the AHL, I would come back and help in any way I could — whether that be in the team’s hockey school or whatever. When I came back full-time, I was very grateful to be given this opportunity.”
Plante continues to work with three goalies: Jiri Patera, Connor Ungar, and Ethan Kruger. In 48 games last year, Patera had a 3.31 GAA and a .906 save percentage. In just four games last season, Ungar impressed most with his 2.81 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
Playing as Patera’s full-time backup, Kruger played 22 games and had a 3.60 GAA to go along with a .890 save percentage.
Patera is likely to be penciled in as the team’s opening day goalie. When it comes to both Ungar and Kruger, a very impressive battle continues, and the question of who will win the battle remains to be seen.
Based off the preseason so far, Kruger went 19-for-19 on Friday while Ungar went a perfect 16-for-16. On Saturday, Ungar went 15-for-19 while Kruger went 7-for-8.
If you base it off those numbers, Kruger does have the upper hand, but it’s not that easy for Plante.
“You know what, our situation with our goalies is a good and a bad problem. It’s great to have this problem as a coach because we have three top-end goalies,” said Plante. “On the other side, one goalie will be left out, and I think all three guys are good enough to play at this level.”
“We’re happy that we have all three, and it’s definitely a tight race,” added Plante. “It’s going to be interesting going forward.”
Plante also shared his thoughts on Connor and Ethan through the preseason so far.
“I think both guys have done really well with their opportunities so far,” he added. “Connor had a little bit of a tougher test on Saturday, but I don’t think we played a complete game in front of him. Both guys are doing their jobs and that makes it tough on us, but that’s a good thing.”
When players and goalies reported to Brandon late last month, Plante had a simple message for the goaltenders specifically.
“I tell the guys that if they’re not coming in trying to be the starting goalie for the Brandon Wheat Kings, you have the wrong attitude,” Plante concluded. “If these kids aren’t trying to be the best they can be, what are we doing here. They obviously have to have a good relationship with the other goalies that they’re fighting for a spot against, but with that said, they need to make saves and play with an edge.”
Brandon resumes and wraps up their preseason this weekend with a home-and-home against Moose Jaw. It’s not determined who will play and when, but a decision will be made after Saturday’s game.