The West Central Atom Wheat Kings have had a successful first season so far, going by both feedback and their record.
Meanwhile, the other two Wheat King teams added to their records but in opposite ways.
The Bantam Wheat Kings didn’t get back in the win column last weekend. They lost 8-5 to the Martensville Marauders in Kindersley on Sunday after being defeated 7-3 by the Melville Millionaires in Macklin on Saturday.
The bantams have a break from league action until a week from Saturday. They host the Prince Albert Pirates in Kerrobert on the 26th and the Regina Aces in Dodsland on the 27th.
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The Peewee Wheat Kings weren’t as gracious hosts as their bantam counterparts. They drubbed the Tisdale Ramblers 8-1 in Unity on Sunday after beating them 3-1 in Kindersley on Saturday.
They play in Prince Albert on Saturday and in Warman on Sunday.
Five Bantam Wheat Kings – Jakin Lawrence, Ethan Kelly, Emery Cholin, Austin Shepherd and Leightin Partington – scored goals against Martensville.
Partington had two assists.
Avery Kohlman made 32 saves in the West Central net.
The Marauders outshot the Wheat Kings 40-23.
Partington, Ethan Hilbig and Hunter Sperle got West Central markers against Melville.
Lawrence assisted on two goals.
Blake Sittler made 25 saves as the Millionaires outshot the Wheat Kings 32-24.
On Sunday, four Peewee Wheat Kings did all of their scoring. Cole Reschny got a hat trick, Ethan Sautner and Pryce Thiessen had two goals each and Carter Ralston rounded out the scoring.
Dayton Reschny assisted on four goals. Cam Perlinger and Cole Reschny each had two assists.
Tyson Borschneck didn’t see a lot of action in the West Central net as his teammates outshot the Ramblers 30-16.
Sautner, Cole and Dayton Reschny scored Wheat King goals on Saturday.
Paige Fischer minded the West Central net. Shots on goal weren’t recorded.
The West Central Atom Wheat Kings have had a 17-6-2 record in exhibition games and tournament play thus far this season.
The team has been a pilot project but it was formed with the plan of continuing beyond this season, said head coach Zane Hayes of Eatonia, who is also the president of the West Central AA Hockey Association.
Last season the west central association and only two other hockey associations in Saskatchewan – in North Battleford and Melville – didn’t have tiered hockey for their atom teams, said Hayes.
Every other association in the province had a Tier 1 atom team that served as a feeder team for their AA peewee and bantam teams, he said.
This led to the west central association considering and then starting to laying the foundation for the team.
As it turned out, both North Battleford and Melville associations also started Tier 1 atom teams, he said.
“We were pretty transparent with what we were doing and making sure all the minor hockey associations in our area knew and would support it. These small towns struggle to put together their own atom teams,” said Hayes.
“Every organization – Eatonian, Eston, Kindersley, Dodsland, Kerrobert, Wilkie and Unity – all said definitely, ‘We will release kids to go to your team because they’re going to a higher level of hockey,’ ”said Hayes.
“If it’s just Joe Blow kid in Unity and wants to play in Wilkie, that’s a different story. Right?” he said.
Because there aren’t a lot of leagues on this side of the province, the west central association went with a schedule of exhibition games and tournaments.
Joining Saskatoon’s Tier 1 league would mean playing even home games in the city, said Hayes.
Distance also ruled out playing in a league with Swift Current, Moose Jaw, Weyburn and Estevan teams, he said.
The only other option was a northeast Alberta league, including teams in Lloydminster and Wainwright. That would have meant the least amount to travel but the Saskatchewan Hockey Association wouldn’t allow it, said Hayes.
The 16 Atom Wheat Kings are drawn from Eatonia, Eston, Kindersley, Dodsland, Kerrobert, Unity and Wilkie, he said.
The team won the B side of a tournament in Waldheim in December, lost the A final of a Swift Current tournament in November and won the B side of a tournament in Nipawin, also in November.
The atoms play in a North Battleford tournament on Feb. 1-3 and in the Black Aces tournament in Saskatoon on March 15-17. A lot of top teams, including out-of-province teams, attend the Black Aces tournament.
That tournament will serve as the playoffs and season finale for the team, since the SHA doesn’t have provincial playoffs at the atom level, said Hayes.
They are getting a few exhibition games against peewee teams.
As “a top-end atom team, we compete pretty well with the house-league peewee teams around here,” said Hayes.
That way they have competition that is close to home.
They play two games against a Kerrobert peewee team this next weekend, he said.
Overall, “We want this to continue on and be a feeder system for our AA peewee and our AA bantams,” said Hayes.
The Atom Wheat Kings are competing well with those in Saskatoon, where they even tier at the novice level, said Hayes.
“The parents on the team have given me a bit of feedback. While it’s little extra travel, they’re just ecstatic that the kids are getting to play with kids of their own calibre, as opposed to staying home. And some of these kids, honestly, would score 10 goals a game, staying and playing house-league hockey,” he said.
“Then the flip side” is from parents whose kids are still in house-league atom hockey “and they’re kind of happy even. I haven’t heard from everybody but some have come up to me and said, ‘That was the best thing we ever could have done was get those high-end kids out of this league and give them a place to play and development. My little Johnny has been able to touch the puck 10 or 12 times more a game than he would have with those kids in the league,’ “ said Hayes.
Hearing that validates Hayes as the head coach, the association president and “the guy who kind of pushed this through,” he said.
Every parent can’t possibly be happy they formed the team, but looking at the Hi-Way 14 league and comparing atom scores this season with last season, scores are much closer, he said.
Last year there were scores such as high as 40-0 and all of those goals were by one or two players, said Hayes.
While the association had in mind developing the “high-end kids,” members also thought it would allow the other players to have more touches of the puck and get more opportunity themselves to develop, he said.