The Western Hockey League has announced that a new season will officially begin on January 8, 2021. The WHL originally had a date of Friday, December 4 — which was just a tentative date — but things are now set in stone.
When the 2019-2020 season came to an end, the Portland Winterhawks had 97 points as they won the U.S. Division by one point over the Everett Silvertips and they were also named Regular-Season Champions.
The Brandon Wheat Kings were trending in the right direction as they finished the season by going 6-3-1 in their final 10 games and they had already clinched a playoff berth. They were also just six points behind Prince Albert for the top spot in the East Division. Luka Burzan was leading the team with 62 points and Ben McCartney had 61. All of that is now in the past as we look forward to January 8, 2021.
Darren Ritchie is the General Manager of the Wheat Kings and he had this to say on the news of the league returning in early 2021.
“Yeah, it’s great news for our players and our entire league,” said Ritchie. “It gives us all something to build forward to and look forward to.”
This season’s format will be a unique one, one that the WHL has never had to use. Because of the novel coronavirus, the league has announced that each team will only play games within their division. The Wheat Kings will be joined by Swift Current, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Prince Albert, and Moose Jaw as the seven teams will make up the East Division.
Although that is set in stone, the league hasn’t announced a schedule for the upcoming season. Four of the six teams in the East Division qualified for the playoffs last year with Regina and Moose Jaw being the two teams on the outside.
“For what we’re dealing with, this is a perfect way for us to play our games in close travel,” continued Ritchie. “The league has done a lot of work and I think it’s a really good idea.”
2020 NHL Draft:
It was postponed for several months due to COVID-19 but when it did take place, it was a huge two days for the Wheat Kings organization. The team led all WHL Clubs with four players selected. Braden Schneider, Ridly Greig, Cole Reinhardt, and Ben McCartney were all selected over the two-day event that was held virtually.
Schneider was chosen 19th overall by the New York Rangers in what was a huge first round for New York. They picked Alexis Lafreniere first overall.
Schneider scored seven goals last season and 35 assists as he recorded a career-high 42 points. In fact, he smashed his previous high as he had 18 more points last year than in 2018-2019.
“It’s a great accomplishment for Braden and his family, we’re really excited for him,” said Ritchie. “It’s a great opportunity for him to continue pushing on to his goal which is to be an NHL player.”
Brandon didn’t have to wait much longer to hear another name from their team as Ridly Greig was chosen 28th overall by the Ottawa Senators. It was Ottawa’s third selection in the first round. They selected Tim Stuetzle third-overall followed by Jake Sanderson at fifth-overall.
Ridly scored 26 times last season — the third most on the team — as he finished with 60 points in his most productive season as a Wheat King. From Lethbridge, AB, Ridly also played in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup with Canada last year. That’s where he scored two goals and had one assist in five games.
“Ottawa had a really good day with those three picks,” said Ritchie. “Ridly is a really skilled guy with a great edge. I believe he’s going to complement any team he plays with.”
That ended up being it for Brandon on day one. On day two, Cole Reinhardt and Ben McCartney were selected. Cole was selected by the Senators in the sixth round, 181st overall while McCartney went in the seventh round, 204th overall to the Arizona Coyotes.
Ben was second in team scoring last year with 25 goals and 61 points while Reinhardt scored 31 times — the second-most on the team — and he recorded 55 points.
After he was drafted, Reinhardt had this to say.
“It’s a pretty special feeling, my phone was blowing up with people congratulating me,” he said. “Every kid wants to get drafted and I couldn’t be any happier to be drafted by the Senators organization.”
Ritchie went on to add this on Cole and Ben getting drafted. This was Cole’s third time going through the draft while this was Ben’s second.
“It’s a great accomplishment for them. It proves that they have stuck with it and continued to get better over the years,” said Ritchie. “That’s also a great compliment to our coaching staff. To have four players drafted, our staff should be proud of what they have done to help our players improve.”
All four players will return to the Wheat Kings this season. They have all been leaders on the ice and in the dressing room in the past and Ritchie expects the same moving forward into the new season.
He is one of Brandon’s top prospects that will look to make the team this season. The sixth overall pick in the 2019 WHL U-15 Draft, Zimmer hasn’t been shy to say his goal is to make the team this season. While training camp won’t begin until after the Christmas break, Zimmer will certainly be ready.
He’s currently playing with the Waywayseecappo Wolverines of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League — a team that auto-protected him in 2019 — and he’s now played in two games. He looked solid in both games as he continues to gear up for Wheat Kings camp.
“We’re really happy that Tyson can play some games. I watched the game on October 9 and I was quite impressed with the young man playing in his first junior game,” ended Ritchie. “Anytime you can start playing games, it’s going to help for sure.”
There is certainly a lot to be excited about right now. The league will begin play on January 8, 2021 and in the Wheat City, it’s a club that believes this year could be a big one after they won 35 games last season.