Overreaction Monday: Wheat Kings making a run at the East Division title

It’s the triumphant return of Overreaction Monday. This is where I take a look at the past week’s action and… well, overreact a bit. Sometimes it may be a fairly obvious point I am making and sometimes you will think I’m off my rocker. It is meant to be fun though so save your social media pitchforks, please.

This week’s overreaction: The Brandon Wheat Kings will make a run at the East Division title.

In late December, the Wheat Kings lost two of three against their fellow Manitoba-based East Division rivals. That was while the Winnipeg ICE were surging past the Prince Albert Raiders to take the top spot in the East Division.

Since then, the Wheat Kings have rattled off nine straight wins with five of those coming within the division and four coming via shutout.

(Photo courtesy of the Brandon Wheat Kings) Dave Lowry

This run has head coach Dave Lowry‘s squad just four points back of Winnipeg for the top spot in the division. Prince Albert, who has only won three times over their last 10 games, is three points ahead of Brandon as well, so the Wheaties are third in a tight race.

The talent has always been on the roster for Brandon, just not always on the ice. Jiri Patera, the team’s overage, import goalie, missed a month back in October and the other import, Marcus Kalionkieli, did not make his WHL debut until December 10th. Other injuries have hampered Brandon as well.

Even without key forward Cole Reinhardt for much of this current streak, Brandon seems to finally be clicking.

Luka Burzan is on a tear. Over the nine-game win streak, the Colorado Avalanche prospect has nine of his 24 goals this season. His trademark wicked wrist shot has been fooling WHL goalies left and right.

The depth has been shining through as well. Lynden McCallum had a two-goal game on Saturday. Ben McCartney has 10 points over his last nine games, defensemen Braden Schneider has seven points and Chad Nychuk has six while overage forward Connor Gutenberg has five. Midseason acquisition Duncan Pierce has fit in nicely since arriving as well.

(Photo credit – Rick Elvin) Luka Burzan

Reinhardt and Ridly Greig missed time during the current streak with Greig being suspended for two and Reinhardt recovering from an injury. Greig has eight points over his last six games and Reinhardt came back flying, putting up five points in three games.

All those numbers mean is that this team has a lot of ways they can hurt you and will be tough to shut down by even the most stingy defensive team.

In net, Patera has been the hottest goalie in the league. He came within a few minutes of nabbing four shutouts over six starts. Even with that late Calgary goal Friday, he has only allowed five goals in those six starts.

Cole Reinhardt (photo-Brian Liesse)

Ethan Kruger then stepped in for Patera Saturday and got his third shutout of the season. That month where he started practically every game has given Brandon a very capable and now experienced backup behind Patera.

While Winnipeg and Prince Albert are going to be extremely tough teams to overcome, I’d argue that Brandon has more depth and they seem to finally be clicking with first-year coach Dave Lowry’s system. Those that saw what he did with a lot of players who were cast off from other teams in Victoria season after season should not be surprised he has Brandon, with bigger names on the roster, on a run that has them pushing for the top spot in a very competitive division.

Stat of the week: 25-3

That is the total score in the Kamloops Blazers’ three-in-three over the weekend, as they outscored their opponents by 22 goals. They have won eight straight.

Reese Belton. Photo by Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers.

Overall, the top-three teams in the Western Conference imposed their wills over the weekend. The Everett Silvertips rolled over the Seattle Thunderbirds 8-0 Saturday and then shut them down 2-0 Sunday.

Everett goalie Dustin Wolf notched both shutouts and is now tied for ninth all-time in the WHL with 19. He’s only 18 years old, folks.

The Portland Winterhawks ran their unbeaten-in-regulation streak to a whopping 19 games while outscoring a heavily shorthanded Kelowna Rockets squad 10-2 over two games.

The Blazers rolled the reeling Tri-City Americans 12-3 on Friday with starting goalie Talyn Boyko leaving the game. 16-year-old Mason Dunsford was under siege on Saturday and the Blazers blew the Americans out 9-0.

Jack O’Brien (Photo- Portland Winterhawks/Keith Dwiggins)

Things were not so easy on Sunday against a Vancouver Giants team that seemed to finally be finding its legs after beating the Victoria Royals twice. The Blazers were held to four goals… but shut out the Giants and won 4-0 to ensure a 10-point lead in the B.C. Division.

The Winterhawks also have a 10-point division lead in the U.S. Everett, who sits in second, is eight points above any other Western Conference team.

Underrated player of the week: Tarun Fizer.

This segment is where I praise a player who is not well-known outside of the city they play in. This week, while watching Victoria takedown Tri-City on Wednesday, Fizer caught my eye. He had a hat trick in the game, but his mix of speed and an incredible wrist shot made it seem like he could have been in on three more goals.

The 18-year-old Fizer is second on the team in scoring with 37 points in 40 games. That is already three more than he had last season.

Tweet of the week:

The Regina Pats struggled through their trip to the Pacific Northwest, only winning one game. Their team Twitter page had some fun though as Ty Smith‘s younger brother Zack Smith was the only one from the family who found the net in a 6-2 loss to Spokane and his older brother Ty.

The Chiefs had the brothers take the draw during the ceremonial faceoff and also let the large number of family members who made the trip to Spokane watch warmups from the benches.

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