Beginning to mesh

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Regina Pats find some success as they rebuild

Colin Buchinski
Contributor

We are more than half way through the 2010-11 Western Hockey League season.

Coming into this season, Pats fans had little to be excited about. The team was set for the beginnings of a full-scale rebuild with a new GM in Chad Lang and a nucleus of very young players. 

At the start of the year, nobody really gave the Pats a chance, and understandably so. Star players Jordan Eberle and Colten Teubert had graduated from the WHL ranks and the team had little to be excited about. This season, the Pats’ goal has simply been putting a competitive product on the ice and developing good young players for the future. At times this season, the Pats have failed to deliver. Such was the case in an 11-1 loss to the Spokane Chiefs earlier this year.

But the Pats have been entertaining to watch for the most part. They have skated with some of the best teams in the CHL with heart and determination and have been able to string together wins at key times, including a pair of wins against the CHL’s no. 4-ranked team, the Saskatoon Blades.

Although Regina is below .500, there is much to be proud of in this year’s squad. With 17 wins, the Pats are very much in the hunt for that final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. As of press time, the Pats are two points back of the Prince Albert Raiders for eighth in the East and currently have two games in hand.

Since the Christmas break, the Pats have posted a 7-3-1 record. This is largely thanks to stellar performances by goaltenders Damien Ketlo and Matt Hewitt. In a 4-3 shootout win against the Saskatoon Blades, Hewitt posted 59 saves and stole the game away for the Pats. At age 18, Hewitt will likely be the Pats’ starting goaltender next year and possibly the year after. Hewitt displays great lateral movement and has proven to be clutch for the Pats.

On defence, one of the most impressive players has been Myles Bell. At 6–0, 209 lbs, Bell has provided size and security on the backend while also adding 11 goals. The play of Bell has impressed scouts, earning him a trip to the top prospects game where he clocked the CHL’s hardest shot at an amazing 98.4 MPH. NHL Central scouting has bell ranked 37th among North American skaters for the 2011 draft.

Also having a good year is Edmonton Oilers prospect Brandon Davidson. He is second on the team in scoring with 32 points. Davidson can play in any situation and has been a key part of the team’s defensive core.

Up front, Jordan Weal has added 1.23 points per game, making his total 58. Weal, a third-round draft choice of the LA Kings, has been by far the Pats’ best player and without him the Pats would likely sit dead last. With great hands, fantastic skill, and speed, Weal is one of the WHL’s most exciting players and it is worth making a trip to the Brandt Centre just to see him.

Another player worth mentioning is Regina-born Pats captain Garrett Mitchell. Although he’s scored just 14 goals, Mitchell has proved to be a fantastic leader for Regina. Mitchell’s hard work on and off the ice has set a great example for his teammates and he has also never strayed from dropping the gloves to protect a teammate or strictly to help change the momentum of the game. The Washington Capitals draft pick is likely in his last year with the Pats and has drawn comparisons to former Pats captain Garth Murray.

For a team that has undergone so many changes, the Pats are finally beginning to mesh as a team and just might make the playoffs. New additions to the Pats include forwards Lane Scheidl, Shane Neigum, Lyndon Martell, Tanner Olstad, Trent Oullette, and Nils Moser. Notable players who were dealt away from the Pats include defencemen Mitch Spooner, goaltender Dawson Guhle, and forwards Thomas Frazee and Carter Ashton.

Trading Ashton, who represented Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships, brought in first-, third-, and fifth-round picks and was a very good trade by Lang. The move stockpiles draft picks and gives Pats fans more reason to be excited for the future. The plan should essentially be for the team to be a contender in 2-3 seasons.

Right now, the Pats’ focus is on the development of younger players rather than winning every game. Making the playoffs would be an absolute bonus and would give great young players like Chandler Stephensen a taste of playoff hockey as well as a great experience boost. Some question head coach Curtis Hunt, but if he can somehow lead this team to the playoffs, there is absolutely no way anyone can doubt him.

This weekend, the Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors will battle in the Trans-Canada Clash, an annual home-and-home series between the two teams. They play in Moose Jaw on Friday, then in Regina on Saturday, 7 p.m., at the Brandt Centre.

It should be a great couple of games with lots of future NHL talent being displayed. If the Pats can play just over .500 hockey from now to the end, there is a great chance we will see them play a team like Saskatoon first round. From the Blades point of view, I’d be worried to draw the Pats in a first-round matchup. The Pats have given them troubles all year long and the possible first-round matchup is something great to look forward to.

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