It was one of the strangest scenes that hockey fans may ever see. After falling 5-2 to the Saskatoon Blades in the final game of the shortened 2020-21 regular season, the Brandon Wheat Kings took to their blueline and watched as the ‘Subway Cup’ made its way onto the ice, before captain Braden Schneider was presented with the trophy.
The players took turns circling the ice with the hardware before gathering at centre ice for a classic cup photo with trainers and coaching staff present. The team then moved off to the corner of the ice to pose with cardboard Wheat Kings cutouts for yet another group photo – welcome to 2020/2021.
With the Western Hockey League announcing that it would no longer be considering a postseason, the team that finished atop the standings would essentially be given the year-end trophy as the division’s top club. And in needing just 23 games to prove their worth as the best team, Brandon didn’t even need to show up on Wednesday evening, in order to take the prize.
It was almost like they didn’t show up, either.
Giving up the game’s first two goals, Brandon did bounce back with another two power play strikes from Lynden McCallum in the second period, before allowing the Blades the get back ahead late in the frame and add two more goals in the final period.
McCallum and Ridly Greig each had two-point affairs, while three different Saskatoon players registered a goal and an assist in the final showdown of the 24-game schedule. Connor Ungar gave up four goals on 27 shots, while Nolan Maier stopped 35 of the 37 pucks he faced in the victory.
Obviously, the Subway Cup was not presented as a result of Wednesday’s contest, but rather an overall recognition of play throughout the two-month season. Officially going 18-4-2 for 38 points in 24 games, Brandon finished one point ahead of the second-place Winnipeg ICE and three points up on the Blades to take the club’s 14th division title.
“The 2020-21 WHL Season will enter the history books unlike any season prior,” WHL Commissioner Ron Robison said. “The WHL commends all players, staff, and officials, who sacrificed their normal way of life to enter the WHL Hub Centre and play with their same fierce competitiveness that is renowned with the Western Hockey League.”
Concluding the highly unprecedented 2020-21 campaign, to which the players packed up and left for Regina for two months of play at the Brandt Centre, the East Division went without a single positive COVID-19 case out of 1,930 completed tests.
“In such a unique and challenging season as this, it is important to recognize the accomplishments of our teams and we are pleased to present the Brandon Wheat Kings with the Subway Cup – the first time a championship trophy has been presented to a WHL Division Champion. Many thanks to our corporate partner Subway for serving as the official title partner for the Subway Hub Centre and making this all possible.”
Brandon finished atop the division’s scoring with 104 goals scored in 24 games – or an average of 4.33 goals per game. The Wheat Kings also allowed the least goals against with 61 (2.54 goals against per game).
Lynden McCallum (Brandon) led the league in goals with 21, while Ben McCartney (Macdonald) finished second with 37 points. Defenceman Braden Schneider finished the season with five goals and 27 points, including two overtime game-winners.
The last time Brandon concluded the year atop the East Division was in 2015-16, when the Wheat Kings won the Ed Chynoweth Cup over the Seattle Thunderbirds. Despite finishing in first place once again, Brandon will not have the opportunity to test its luck in the postseason this year, however, it will own what will likely go down in history as the only Subway Cup championship.