BRANDON -- From chumps to potential champs, what a difference a game made for the Brandon Wheat Kings -- and the 2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Needing a win to reinvigorate their club and this event, the Wheaties responded with a dominating 4-0 victory over the Quebec league champion Moncton Wildcats at Westman Place Sunday afternoon. The effort was everything their opening 9-3 loss to the Windsor Spitfires was not.
Goaltending? There were no hunches being played on backups this time as Wheat Kings head coach Kelly McCrimmon went with his proven starter, Jacob De Serres, and was handsomely rewarded with a stellar effort as De Serres turned back all 31 shots he faced and made key saves early to buy his team some time to find traction.
Special teams? Brandon went 1-for-3 on the power play and successfully killed off four Moncton power plays.
Offence? All three lines chipped in offensively. Brandon's second line of Toni Rajala, Aaron Lewadniuk and Jay Fehr continue to carry most of the load -- accounting for four of the Wheaties seven goals thus far this tournament -- but LA Kings prospect Brayden Schenn did make his first contribution of the tournament, scoring the game's third goal.
Throw in a rabid response from a big partisan crowd and a Brandon team that now has a solid chance to be one of the clubs still standing when this four-team event becomes a three-team affair come playoffs this weekend -- and suddenly all was well again in the Wheat City Sunday evening.
"It was a great all-around effort by everyone," said Wheat Kings forward Shayne Wiebe, whose contribution went far beyond the two assists he was credited with. "We played a solid defensive game and that's exactly what we needed to get back into the tournament."
Rajala, who had the game's first goals, said whatever opening night jitters might have contributed to the debacle against Windsor Friday night were gone by game time against Moncton.
"It was maybe a little bit more relaxing today," said Rajala. "We had a great feeling when we woke up this morning."
With the victory, Brandon will now advance to the weekend playoff round regardless of the result of their final round-robin game against Calgary on Wednesday -- unless 0-2 Moncton can find a way to get their first win of the tournament on Tuesday against the event gorilla, Windsor Spitfires.
A tall order, to be sure. "If we don't get a win in the round-robin," said Wildcats coach Danny Flynn, "we don't deserve another chance."
Brandon, on the other hand, took full advantage of their second chance and rewarded a community that is all Memorial Cup, all the time right now.
"That's what they come here to cheer for -- they come here to cheer for us," said Brandon forward Scott Glennie. "There's a pretty good fever in the city right now and we were just glad to give them what they wanted."
Any chance Brandon has of winning the Memorial Cup on home ice this week will turn, as it always does, on goaltending and De Serres staked a claim on Sunday that he's the man to get it done.
De Serres turned away 11 shots in the first period alone, including a breakaway by Moncton forward Ted Stephens, and made another big stop five minutes into the second, turning away Moncton's Kelsey Tessier who was alone in front of the crease.
But De Serres said the big difference in the game was actually the first goal his club scored -- a Rajala backhand from in close at 10:14 of the first period -- than the goals he prevented.
"Just getting the one goal (was) so big for us," said De Serres. "It gave us confidence. It made us start believing in ourselves, just getting to that point where we started believing we could actually win the game."
McCrimmon, who'd been getting second-guessed for his decision to go with backup Andrew Hayes to start the tournament against Windsor, sounded like a relieved man.
"It was a game where we played to get out from underneath it, based on our start to the tournament. And now, at least we're in it," said McCrimmon.
The Memorial Cup continues tonight when the Windsor Spitfires play the Calgary Hitmen.