In mid-March, the Brandon Wheat Kings saw the 2019-20 regular season come to an early, abrupt end. A couple weeks later news came that the Western Hockey League would not be hosting playoffs or any form of a postseason, with the CHL’s Memorial Cup being washed out for the first time in its 102 year history.
Despite a crushing resolution for all involved, the inevitable decision to wipe out the remainder of the season was exceptionally difficult for the veteran, over-age players in their final year of WHL action. The Brandon Wheat Kings boasted three such players:
Hulking defenceman Dom Schmiemann whom the Wheaties acquired from the Tri-City Americans in early October, team captain and homegrown product Connor Gutenberg who had played his entire five-year junior career in Brandon, and all-star goaltender Jiri Patera who the Wheat Kings selected in the second round of the 2018 CHL Import Draft.
As the often cliche saying goes, ‘play every game like it’s your last’, the three seniors on the team skated in their final game without even knowing it. Luckily for one of them, his efforts throughout the season-to-date proved to be enough to earn a league-wide recognition.
Last month, netminder Jiri Patera was named the WHL’s Eastern Conference Goaltender of the Year and a finalist for the WHL’s Del Wilson Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the league’s top backstop. This recognition came just after his selection to the 2019-20 Eastern Conference First Team All-Stars. The 2017 sixth round draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights put together a stellar second season of WHL play.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound goaltender went 24-12-4 with a 2.55 goals against average, a .921 save percentage and five shutouts, starting 41 of the team’s 63 contests. Patera’s five clean sheets placed him second in the league, while his 24 victories was tops in the east, and fourth across the league. His save percentage was third-best league-wide.
The Czech Republic product had an eight-game winning streak through January, while allowing just one goal or fewer in nearly 30 percent of his games. Patera ended up losing out in the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy race to Dustin Wolf of the Everett Silvertips, whom the league’s general managers and head coaches deemed to be the most spectacular of the year. But finishing second out of 71 goaltenders isn’t all that bad. It’s certainly a phenomenal way to go out for the 21-year-old.