The Western Hockey League has officially returned to Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg Ice played their first game in front of their home crowd on Saturday night, as they welcomed the Brandon Wheat Kings to the newly renovated Wayne Fleming Arena. Saturday was the second chapter in the WHL’s newest rivalry, as the Ice kicked off the battle of Manitoba on Friday night in Brandon with a 3-2 win in the season opener. But less than 24 hours later, the Wheat Kings would return the favour and spoil Winnipeg’s home opener with a 4-2 victory in front of 1,612 fans.
"Well, I think what it’s done is it’s going to create a real nice provincial rivalry," said Ice head coach and Winnipeg native James Patrick on opening the season with a pair of games against Brandon.
"It started in the pre-season, there’s a lot of dislike for each other and that’s good. I think what it does is it builds interest."
Brandon opened the scoring just over three minutes into the game as forward Ben McCartney found the back of the net on a goal assisted by Braden Schneider and Chad Nychuk. Winnipeg quickly answered with a power-play goal of their own as forward Michal Teply blasted a shot from the point to tie the game. Teply scored the game-winning goal on Friday. At the halfway point of the opening period, the Ice took the lead with Brad Ginnell scoring his first goal of the season. Patrick liked what he saw from his group in the first 20 minutes.
"I actually thought we started the game the way we wanted to. We got out, got a good power-play goal early and we started really playing the way we thought we would have to. We took a couple penalties and started chasing the game a little bit before we settled in."
The first period ended with the Ice having a 2-1 advantage, but they quickly gave it away in the second period by hanging goalie Dean McNabb out to dry. In the opening minute of the second period, Ice defenceman Carson Lambos turned the puck over, which led to Brandon’s Luka Burzan scoring on a breakaway. Minutes later, the Ice continued to be sloppy with the puck as Burzan would score on another breakaway goal, this time assisted by McCartney. Burzan also had a two-point night on Friday with two assists.
"You know what, it’s junior hockey. There’s going to be mistakes," Patrick said. "I like the way we responded. We stayed with what we needed to do."
But Winnipeg needed a goal late to tie it up and they failed to do so. Brandon controlled the majority of the play in the final frame and put the game out of reach with 2:54 left when forward Lynden McCallum jumped on a loose puck in front of McNabb to add an insurance goal to make it 4-2. Brandon outshot Winnipeg 39-35 on the night. Goalie Jiri Patera picked up the win for the Wheat Kings.
Fifteen-year-old forwards Matthew Savoie and Conor Geekie — who the Ice selected first and second overall respectively in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft — were held off the scoresheet. Savoie had four shots on net. Geekie, who was playing on the fourth line, was making his season debut as he didn’t suit up on Friday.
The Ice will hit the road for their next game as they play the Saskatoon Blades on Friday.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.