BRANDON, Man. – Even if such a thing existed, Jimmy Bubnick would never have taken Jimmy Bubnick first overall in a fantasy draft for the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
“Not a chance,” he said.
It would have been a poor draft strategy, after the Calgary Hitmen forward recorded four points in the final game of the round robin to jump over a player who could be selected first overall in next month’s NHL draft. Bubnick had a goal and three assists to move past Windsor Spitfires star Taylor Hall on the overall list, helping the Hitmen to a 5-1 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings in the process on Wednesday.
Hitmen forward Kris Foucault added two goals and two assists to help his team earn home-ice advantage for Friday’s semifinal rematch against the Wheat Kings. All six of the game’s goals were scored in the first period, with Bubnick factoring in all but one of Calgary’s markers.
“I guess it’s a little bit of a dark horse, a little bit of an underdog,” Bubnick said. “But I’m not going to play into that at all. It’s a great honour, but there’s still a lot of tournament to go.”
Bubnick has three goals and five assists through three round-robin games, leaving him two points better than Hall, who is projected to be among the first two selections made at the NHL Entry Draft next month in Los Angeles.
Calgary finished the preliminary portion of the schedule with a 2-1 record, its only loss coming against the Spitfires, who had already earned a direct berth into the championship final on Sunday. Brandon finished 1-2, and extended a troubling post-season drought against its WHL rivals.
The Hitmen eliminated the Wheat Kings from the playoffs in five games last month, one year after needing only four games to dispatch Manitoba’s only junior hockey team. The two teams have met in the post-season four times in the last six years — with Calgary emerging victorious three times.
The game on Wednesday was stripped of all tangible meaning when the Spitfires eliminated the Moncton Wildcats from the tournament on Tuesday night. By losing in each of their three round-robin games, the Wildcats removed the need for a tie-breaker, and left the Hitmen and Wheat Kings to play for any reason to which they could ascribe importance.
Calgary forwards were allowed to claim squatter’s rights in front of Brandon goaltender Jacob De Serres without fear of eviction. The Hitmen scored more than half of their goals off scrambles around the net, with De Serres left sprawling in defence.
Foucault gave Calgary a 1-0 lead three minutes into the game when he appeared to surprise De Serres by sneaking behind the Brandon centreman after an offensive zone draw to fire a quick shot on net. The Wheat Kings tied the game on a goal from Jay Fehr 29 seconds later, but the rally stalled, and then it disappeared altogether.
Foucault scored his second goal three minutes after he scored his first, and Cody Beach gave the Hitmen a 3-1 lead a few minutes after that. Bubnick’s goal was perhaps the most damning indictment of Brandon’s defence, popping the puck into the net with four Wheat Kings struggling to maintain order around the net.
Tyler Shattock rounded out Calgary’s scoring.
“It’s disappointing,” Wheat Kings coach Kelly McCrimmon said. “People thought it was a meaningless game, but I know that we didn’t, and I’m sure Calgary felt the same way. We’re disappointed with the loss, even though it doesn’t impact what lies ahead, because we came to win tonight, but didn’t.”
Brandon began the tournament on the wrong end of a blowout, falling 9-3 to Windsor on opening night. The Wheat Kings earned what would become their only win of the round robin two days later, with a 4-0 shutout of the injured, struggling Wildcats.
Their fans, clad in yellow, remained vocal, desperate for a reason to cheer, deep into the third period. This is the first time Brandon has hosted the tournament on its own, and none of them have ever seen their Wheat Kings win the title.
“We’ve got another crack at them Friday night,” Brandon winger Mark Stone said. “You can’t really say this was a meaningless game because both teams wanted home-ice advantage, both teams wanted to make a statement, going forward.”