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Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

In advance of the 92nd MasterCard Memorial Cup, which opens Friday in Brandon, Man., we take a look at the four teams vying for the toughest trophy to win in hockey. Presenting the Brandon Wheat Kings, the host team.

Burning questions:

CAN world junior team defenceman Travis Harmonic be a game-changer over a short tournament?

WILL they be sharp enough on special teams?

HOW well will their goaltending hold up? 

Storylines: A team which might be rebuilding next season gets a second chance on home ice.

In a couple paragraphs: They're formidable up front: top-10 NHL draft picks Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie and the trio of overage scorers, Matt Calvert, Aaron Lewadniuk and Jay Fehr, each had at least 80 points in the regular season.

Whatever caused the Wheat Kings to fall shy of reaching the Western Hockey League final, it wasn't scoring (WHL-best 319 goals in the regular season). The five-game loss to Calgary in the conference final seemed to take a lot of observers by surprise, and no doubt some us reactionary media folk will wonder why they didn't win another game after Game 2 against the Hitmen, where they lost after giving up a 5-on-3 power play in overtime.

The Wheat Kings also boast three defencemen who have been drafted into the NHL, including a home-province star in Hamonic. They are decent defensive but maybe lacked the plus-plus goaltending that, if it isn't the end-all be-all at this time of season, sure helps:

"The glaring weakness is in goal, where (Jacob) De Serres and Andrew Hayes have failed to give the Wheat Kings much confidence. De Serres started the majority of the playoff games and left something to be desired with his performance. He plays with a hunched over style and is strong down low, but gets beat too often on high, rising shots." (sportsnet.ca)

Brandon is also a next-year's-too-late team. Thirteen players are in their age-19 or overage season, so they'll have a different look next season.

Coach: Kelly McCrimmon (eighth season, counting both stints)

Co-captains: Matt Calvert and Brayden Schenn

Record: 50-18-1-3 regular season, 9-6 playoffs

Goal differential: +118 regular season, +5 playoffs 

Special teams: 21.9% power play (ninth, WHL); 76.8% penalty killing (17th) in regular season; 22.6% (10th) and 81.0% (sixth) in playoffs.

NHL draft picks: 7 -- C Brayden Schenn (first round, Los Angeles Kings), C Scott Glennie (first round, Dallas Stars), RW Toni Rajala (fourth, Edmonton Oilers), LW Matt Calvert (fifth, Columbus Blue Jackets), D Travis Hamonic (second, New York Islanders), D Colby Robak (second, Florida Panthers), D Alexander Urbom (third, New Jersey Devils).

Draft watch: Right wing Mark Stone, whose brother Michael is Calgary's captain, is ranked 119th among North American skaters. He was ranked 66th before injuries limited him to 39 regular-season games. Left wing Michael Ferland (146th among North American skaters), conversely, has seen his stock rise over the later portions of the season.   

Days off between final playoff game  and tournament opener: 20  

Historical nugget: The last two WHL teams to host, Kelowna in 2004 and Vancouver in 2007, each won the Cup. Nine of the past 10 host teams have advanced to the semifinal.

Round-robin schedule (all times EDT): Friday vs. Windsor (8 p.m.), Sunday vs. Moncton (3 p.m.), Wednesday vs. Calgary (8 p.m.)

(Goal differential does not include shootout winners.)  

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. You may contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca.

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