The road to the National Hockey League has been an exciting one so far for Brandon Wheat Kings goaltender, Jiri Patera. A native of Czech Republic, Patera first moved to North America in time to play for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League in the 2017-18 season.
He posted a .901 save percentage and a 3.24 G.A.A in 34 games that season. One season is all he would end up playing in the USHL as his new home was set to be Brandon. The now 20-year-old is in his second season with the WHL’s Wheat Kings, an organization that he has become very fond of.
“I love everything about Brandon. We have great fans and it’s a great area,” said Patera. “Our coaching staff is tremendous and our trainers are fantastic. It’s a great feeling coming to the rink every day.”
Patera was drafted in the sixth-round, 161st overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. His ultimate goal is to play with them, but for now, it’s all about winning a title with the Wheat Kings.
Although at times this season, Brandon has struggled, that can be said about most teams in the East Division. For instance, the Prince Albert Raiders who won the title last year and are thought to be contenders this season, well, they lost eight straight games and just snapped that skid earlier this week.
Lately, the Wheat Kings have been very solid. Brandon has won four straight games and they’re 6-2-0-2 in their last 10 games. The streak has them sitting in third in the highly competitive East Division.
Since December 13, Brandon has been a tough team to beat. They clobbered Moose Jaw 11-1 that night. The team has won five times since that day and they’ve only lost twice.
Brandon’s last loss was on December 28.
“We’ve come a long way in the last bit, we’ve really found ourselves and we believe we can beat any team in this league,” said Patera. “We’ve figured out how to play a full 60 minutes and we’re following our coaches plan.”
Brandon is now just six points behind Prince Albert for second in the East Division and they’re only eight behind Winnipeg for the top spot.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to get closer to those teams,” said Patera. “We want home-ice advantage for a playoff run. However, we’re just focusing on each game and we’re not looking past that.”
Patera has been a big reason that Brandon has been so solid lately. He blanked Prince Albert last Friday with a fantastic 29-save performance. After a day off on Saturday, Patera received another start on Sunday as the team played in Regina against the Pats.
How would he follow up that great performance against Prince Albert? With another magnificent showing. Jiri stopped all 29 shots he faced on Sunday as Brandon beat Regina, 5-0.
In his game prior to picking up two straight shutouts, Patera turned away 34 shots in a 3-1 win against Regina.
Overall, Jiri is 3-0-0-0 in his past three games and he’s turned away 94 of the 95 shots he’s faced. Patera is now 11-7-0-2 this season and he has a solid 2.59 G.A.A to go along with a .919 save percentage. Thanks to his great success, Patera has been named the WHL’s Goaltender of the Week.
“I couldn’t do this by myself. It’s always easier to make saves when your team is playing great defensively and that’s what our team is doing right now,” said Patera. “No doubt it feels nice to have this success, but it’s a team effort. Everyone is doing what they need to be doing.”
Patera and the rest of the team begin a four-game home stand on Tuesday night when the Medicine Hat Tigers roll into town. The home stand also includes games against Red Deer, Prince George, and Calgary. Brandon also plays six of their next seven games at Westoba Place.
Brandon is just 9-7-1-2 on home ice this season. Of teams in playoff contention, that is the fourth-fewest wins on home ice this season. Tri-City has the fewest home wins with seven while Saskatoon and Vancouver both have eight.
“Our goal is to play good in front of our home fans. We had some struggles on home ice at the start of the season,” continued Patera. “We need to make sure it’s hard to win games here in Brandon.”