The Brandon Wheat Kings and Winnipeg ICE appear to be on a crash course set for an all-Manitoban, opening round best-of-seven series between the province’s capital and its second-largest city.
Although currently occupying second (Brandon) and third (Winnipeg) place in the Western Hockey League’s East Division, the two teams do have seven and nine games left to play, respectively. Entering the month of March, both rivals have clinched playoff berths, but their exact placement is still up in the air.
After both squads missed the postseason following the 2018-19 WHL season, the 2020 WHL playoffs will most likely only last one round for one of the competitors. Already squaring off eight times this season, the two teams are .500 against one another, with each side picking up four wins to go along with four losses.
Brandon does hold the advantage when it comes to goal scoring, as the Wheat Kings have tallied 31 markers against the ICE, while Winnipeg has put up 27 goals against Brandon thus far. Each team has won two of four road contests and two of four home games against their provincial rivals.
Three of Winnipeg’s victories over Brandon came by just one goal, while three of Brandon’s victories over Winnipeg held a goal differential of 2+ goals, with two contests seeing the Wheat Kings put up seven goals (7-2, 7-4). Issac Johnson (23 goals, 67 points) and Michal Teply (26 goals, 56 points) lead the way offensively for Winnipeg, while Luka Burzan (35 goals, 60 points) and Ben McCartney (24 goals, 60 points) are Brandon’s top dogs.
With netminders Dean McNabb and Jesse Makaj taking on the bulk of the work in the first five outing of the season against the Wheaties, the ICE have come to rely on backstops Liam Hughes and Gage Alexander following the departure of both players. Hughes has fared well, going 2-1-0 against Brandon, including two wins in his last two starts. Jiri Patera has started seven of the eight contests against the ICE, to which he holds a 4-3-0 record.
Winnipeg (34-24-1), which now sits at 69 points, is five points back of Brandon (34-21-6). The ICE have skated in two fewer games than the Wheat Kings to date. Both teams are mathematically able to catch the division leading Prince Albert Raiders (35-17-9) who have 79 points through 61 games played. The two teams will renew their rivalry with a home-and-home series beginning in Winnipeg on Friday, March 20, and ending Saturday, March 21 in Brandon to close out of the regular season.