BRANDON -- Brandon Wheat Kings general manager Kelly McCrimmon has added some valuable building blocks that help solidify the future of his team, but he's less than thrilled about the circumstances.
Never shy to make a big move before the Western Hockey League's trade deadline, McCrimmon was in the spotlight again on Thursday but this time as a seller rather than a buyer, shipping away three players, including the Wheat Kings' top scorer and a homegrown star.
"Probably the first time in 20 years that we've been forced to take this approach at the deadline, which is a function of how our season has gone," said McCrimmon, whose Wheat Kings are last in the Eastern Conference with a 14-25-2-2 record. "We've been pretty fortunate over many years to have contending teams and this day was always a day about trying to make your team better. So from that standpoint (it's)àdisappointing that this was our course of action and at the same time, we felt that we made progress going down that road."
Two seasons ago, the Wheat Kings sent star Brayden Schenn to the Saskatoon Blades, but between stints with the Los Angeles Kings and the Canadian junior team he played only two games with Brandon -- neither of them within a month before the deadline.
Yesterday's moves changed the face of this year's team more dramatically.
Alessio Bertaggia, a 19-year-old Swiss winger who led the Wheat Kings with 16 goals and 34 points in 30 games, was shipped to the Spokane Chiefs, while 20-year-old Brandonite Mike Ferland -- recently returned after spending the first half of the season in the Calgary Flames' system -- is headed to Saskatoon where he'll finish his junior career at the Memorial Cup this spring.
The return for Ferland was a first-round pick in this year's WHLàBantam Draft, while Spokane sent Czech forward Marek Kalus, 19, Saskatchewan Midget AAA forward Rhett Gardner, 16, and third- and fifth-round picks this year to Brandon for Bertaggia.
Also gone is second-year defenceman Ayrton Nikkel, 17, who was traded by the Wheat Kings to the Everett Silvertips along with a conditional sixth-round pick in 2015 for blue-liner Nick Walters, 18, and Taylor Sanheim, a 16-year-old forward from Elkhorn who is playing Midget AAA hockey this season with the Yellowhead Chiefs.
"We think we've improved our defence," McCrimmon said. "The addition of Nick Walters gives us a proven, experienced defenceman."
-- The Brandon Sun