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Hitmen have killed Wheaties too many times

Brandon seeks revenge on team that regularly ousts them from playoffs

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It could be in the biggest tournament of the year in front of 5,000 fans or a game of ball hockey in a deserted back lane, it really doesn't matter.

The Brandon Wheat Kings just want to beat the Calgary Hitmen.

Tonight (7 p.m., Westman Place) at the MasterCard Memorial Cup, the Wheat Kings wrap up the round-robin by going head-to-head with the team that eliminated them from the Western Hockey League playoffs.

That's nothing new -- the Hitmen have ousted the Wheat Kings from the playoffs three times in the last four seasons -- but this time is a little different.

With their host spot in the Memorial Cup secured long ago, the Wheat Kings entered the post-season determined that their time had come. They'd won three of four regular-season games against the league-leading Hitmen and were determined to continue that trend in the playoffs and go into the Memorial Cup as WHL champions.

The Hitmen had other plans, stopping the Wheat Kings dead in a five-game Eastern Conference final and leaving the Brandon players with a bitter pill to choke on for three weeks while they waited for the Memorial Cup to start.

"They beat us out in the playoffs and we really want to beat these guys," Wheat Kings right-winger Scott Glennie said. "We definitely owe them a couple games."

The winner of tonight's matchup of 1-1 teams locks up second place in the round-robin standings heading into Friday's semifinal, but the standings are really secondary at this point.

More important for the Wheat Kings is to continue the progress they've made since a ragged start to the tournament, following up their opening 9-3 loss to the Windsor Spitfires with a 4-0 blanking of the Moncton Wildcats.

"We are like everybody here, we want to play the best game of the year on Sunday (in the final)," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "We know that for that to happen, we've got to keep getting better as the week goes on."

The victory over the Wildcats gave the Wheat Kings a much-needed shot of confidence but the Wheat Kings are well aware that the games will only get tougher here on in and they'll need to improve to earn another shot at the Spitfires -- who have already clinched first place -- in the final.

"The tournament wasn't won just because we beat Moncton on Sunday afternoon," defenceman Travis Hamonic said. "We've still got a long way to go to become a better team and we know that every day we're going to have to get better.

"I think the biggest thing is that we're going to have to get our skating going right away," he continued. "Obviously, Calgary is a really quick team and they've got fast transitions, so we're going to have to make sure that we're really skating quickly and pushing the pace to how the Brandon Wheat Kings want to play. And we've gotta make sure that we bring that physical element to our game because that's something that's going to be really important to us."

The Wheaties were also outplayed between the pipes during their loss to the Hitmen as Calgary netminder Martin Jones was named series MVP.

Brandon goalie Jacob DeSerres doesn't know if tonight's game will come down to a duel between the masked men, but he said he has worked hard at fine-tuning his own game since that Calgary series.

"I did watch it, I watched the tape myself and it's not things I'd like to do different against these guys in particular, it was just things I wanted to do differently for myself no matter who I was playing," said DeSerres, who stopped 31 shots for the first Memorial Cup shutout in Wheat Kings franchise history Sunday against the Wildcats.

In Tuesday's game, Windsor beat Moncton 4-3 in overtime.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2010 C3

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