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"THE BRANDON BOYS"

Monday, February 24th
"THE BRANDON BOYS"

Anyone who has been around the sport knows that while hockey is an expansive universe with thousands of players from all over the world, somehow, every locker room inevitably has a sense of familiarity. Someone knows someone who played with their brother and was coached by their father on a team their uncle owned in a league they played with someone ever since they started to put on skates. The correlations and similarities go on and on.

In the Rush locker room this season, there is a commonality that connects Head Coach Daniel Tetrault, Captain Peter Quenneville, Assistant Captain Josh Elmes, and Tyler Coulter.

Brandon, Manitoba.

“Growing up, there’s a ton of outdoor rinks in Brandon. A lot of families and children are playing hockey, and it dominates the community,” Elmes said of his hometown. “Sure, there are sports like basketball, baseball, and track, but Brandon is a hockey city. Everyone is playing, whether it’s high school hockey, double-A, triple-A, WHL…all age groups are represented.

“My family wasn’t a hockey family. My parents never played, yet growing up, my dad built an outdoor rink and made sure it was flooded every night so that my siblings and I could play,” Elmes continued. “My brother, my sister, and I latched onto the sport, and had fun with our friends and family just playing the game. The rest, as they say, is history.”

All four Rush members have reasons for passing through Brandon, Manitoba. It was easy for Elmes and Coulter, as Brandon is their hometown. For Coach Tetrault and Quenneville, they were brought in by the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. Tetrault played for the Wheat Kings from 1995-2000, while Quenneville played from 2013-2015.

The Wheat Kings are one of the most storied franchises in the Western Hockey League, in operation in the WHL since 1967. Before that, they were the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Brandon Elks in the late 1930’s before adopting the Wheat Kings mantle. Since joining the WHL, the Wheat Kings have won three championships, two of which are represented on the Rush: Coach Tetrault in 1996, and Tyler Coulter exactly 20 years later in 2016. Additionally, the team holds the Canadian Hockey League (all of major-junior hockey) record for most points in a single season at 125, set in the 1978-79 championship season, in addition to having countless players that have made it to the National Hockey League.

“There is a rich tradition of hockey in Brandon. It’s a small community of 40,000 now, but when I played it was even smaller at 30,000,” said Rush Head Coach Daniel Tetrault. “Brandon reminds me so much of Rapid City, but on a smaller scale. People are passionate about the hockey and the players that come out there. Adding to that tradition is the number of players that made it all the way to the NHL.

“I have to credit the McCrimmon’s, Kelly and Brad, for making the Wheat Kings what they are. They turned the organization around and led it to great heights,” Coach Tetrault continued. “When I played, Kelly was the General Manager, and has to be one of the best minds in our sport, regardless of level. He and Brad owned the team, but Kelly served as GM, owner, and Head Coach all at once at one point. He was the GM for my five seasons, but he coached both Peter and Tyler when they played. Now he’s in the NHL with the Vegas Golden Knights as the Assistant GM.”

The McCrimmon’s tradition of excellence set the standard for many great things to come for the organization. It became a dream for young children not just in Brandon, but all over Canada and North America for that matter, to wear the black and gold of the Wheat Kings.

“When you’re a little kid, its every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night that you were at the Wheat Kings games,” Coulter interjected. “You’d go with your parents, but then you’d see your friends there. We basically grew up in that building.

“The situation with the three of us is unique,” Coulter added regarding his teammates. “Even though all three of us didn’t play with each other, we still all crossed paths at some point. Peter and I weren’t drafted to Brandon, but Josh was. Peter came in from the NCAA and played with me for a season and a half, but didn’t skate with Josh in camp like I did. Josh and I grew up with each other in this rink, which is always really special to look back on. Then Peter came in and led the team to the 2015 WHL Finals, and that’s how we got to know each other. It’s so crazy how it all came to fruition that we all intersected at some point in Brandon, whether it was in the city or with the team.”

To Coulter’s point, Quenneville wasn’t a Brandon native like he and Elmes were. He hailed from Edmonton, and his way to Brandon was through a road less traveled.

“The first thing that got it all going was when my younger brother, John, was drafted by the Wheat Kings in 2011,” Quenneville began on his story. “That moment really put me onto the ‘Wheaties’, as the fans called them, as an organization. With that, I followed John to his first spring camp that year as he weighed his playing options. After some time passed, John played there his 16-year-old year while I was in Dubuque in the USHL gearing up for college.

“After my one year in the USHL with Dubuque in 2012-13, I began my college career. In the WHL Draft, the Prince George Cougars earned and retained my rights to play in the WHL. In November of my year at Quinnipiac, things were orchestrated for Prince George to trade my rights to Brandon, which then opened up an opportunity to play with John,” Quenneville continued. “I decided to leave school, and played with John for a year and a half on the Wheat Kings. From day one, we worked towards trying to rebuild the organization. The year prior to my arrival, they were the worst team in the entire CHL. Our General Manager, Kelly McCrimmon made some big trades to set the table for the year that I joined. We made the second round of the playoffs in my first season, then lost in the Finals in 2015 in my final season, then Tyler and the boys finished the job the next season and won it all.”

Elmes, as Coulter previously stated, was drafted by the Wheat Kings in 2008 in the WHL Bantam Draft. Coach Tetrault, from La Broquerie, Manitoba originally, was also drafted in the WHL Bantam Draft in 1994.

“You’re eligible for the WHL Draft at 14 years old. In the WHL Draft, there’s 15 rounds. I went 7th round out of triple-A,” Elmes said.

“I got drafted at the age of 14 by the Wheat Kings as well,” Coach Tetrault added. “I knew nothing of Brandon, but I was grateful for the opportunity. I went to camp and played midget-AAA at 15 years old, and played as a 16 year-old in Brandon. It was like playing for a hometown team, considering that my family almost always came from La Broquerie to watch when we played at home, as it was only three hours away.”

“I still couldn’t get drafted,” Coulter chimed in with a laugh.

“That was the dream, to be a Brandon Wheat King,” Elmes recalled. “I never made the team after I got drafted. I skated in camp, played in the ‘Black and Gold’ game, but that was such a deep team I competed with and I didn’t make it. Nonetheless, I got to watch Coach Tetrault when I was younger, saw Peter play a few games, and even saw Tyler win a championship.

“I’m still proud of him for that, by the way,” Elmes continued with a laugh.

Coulter, despite not being picked up through the WHL Draft, found his way back home to Brandon and played for the Wheat Kings for parts of five seasons from 2013-2017.

“I actually started in camp with the Calgary Hitmen at 14 years old,” Coulter reminisced. “After camp ended, I went home to Brandon and received a phone call from Wheat Kings GM, Kelly McCrimmon, and he said he wanted to see me skate in Brandon’s camp. I was going into my first year of midget, and returned to Manitoba after going to an academy in British Columbia for the last few years. I hadn’t skated with anyone that was in camp with me. I made it to the end of main camp, but got cut from the Wheat Kings before the ‘Black and Gold’ game or any of the scrimmages.

“After I started my midget-AAA season, I was listed on the roster for the Wheat Kings for reserve/call-up purposes, which gave me a great deal of confidence that I could one day make the team. When I was 17 years old in the 2013-14 season, I walked on and made it,” Coulter proudly recalled.

“Then Peter came, and almost got me traded,” Coulter said, stifling laughter

Of course, an explanation surrounding the comment was necessary.

“Me and my best friend, Brett Kitt, grew up 10 houses down the street from eachother and played hockey together our whole lives,” Coulter began his story. “We both made the Wheat Kings the same year, which was special for us on so many levels. All of a sudden, Peter comes into the locker room, which bumped ‘Kitter’ and I from 12th and 13th forwards on the depth chart to 13th and 14th forwards.

“We looked at each other one day and basically said ‘Well, I guess one of us has to go’,” he said while chuckling. “Before you know it, a few days later he was involved in a trade with a few other players, and I stayed until I finished my career in 2017.”

Coulter finished his career playing 262 games with the Wheat Kings, winning the 2016 WHL Championship while serving as the team’s Assistant Captain. Quenneville played 116 games and captained the team to the 2015 WHL Finals, where the Wheat Kings fell in a 4-0 sweep to the Kelowna Rockets. Even though Elmes didn’t suit up as a Wheat King, he still stayed involved in watching Quenneville and Coulter play when his own junior schedule allowed. He spent four seasons in the MJHL with the OCN Blizzard, then proceeded to play one year each in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints, the University of Manitoba, and senior hockey with the Moosomin Rangers.

Fast forward to now, and three of the “Brandon Boys” are teammates on the Rapid City Rush, with the fourth leading the team behind the bench. Quenneville and Coulter are in their first seasons in the Black Hills, with the former serving as the Captain and the latter two-thirds of the way through a successful rookie season. Elmes, on the other hand, is in his third season with the Rush, serving as an Assistant Captain in each season dating back to his rookie year as a professional.

One of the more enjoyable parts of the reunion for Quenneville is in the old adage that “some things never change”.

“It’s crazy, thinking about us being reunited. I’m 25 now, and he’s 23,” Quenneville reflected on he and Coulter. “Back then, I was 19 and he was 17. It’s funny: you expect things to change over time, but to be honest, nothing’s really changed. I feel like we’re the same people that we were back then.”

“We’re just adults now,” Coulter quipped.

Head Coach Daniel Tetrault undoubtedly had a hand in bringing each of these “Brandon Boys” to the Black Hills this season.

Coach Tetrault spent five seasons in Brandon and played 240 games, winning the 1996 WHL Championship and finishing his Wheat Kings career as the Captain in 1997. That same year, he was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens with the 91st overall selection in the 4th Round of the 1997 NHL Draft.

Josh Elmes was the first of the three to be brought to the Rush organization by Coach Tetrault.

“I was very familiar with Coach Tetrault. I don’t remember much about watching him play only because I was so young, but I do remember seeing him as a Wheat King and always knew who he was in hockey,” Elmes said of his Head Coach. “I knew he was the Captain, a WHL champion, and drafted in the NHL. The people of Brandon have always held him in a high regard. He’s a legend there. The town is so small that when I go back home for the summers, people will tell me to relay messages to him wishing him the best.

“A mutual friend of ours, Ed Dyck, who owns the Boissevain Border Kings, got us in contact with each other over playing in the 2017-18 season,” Elmes continued.  “I was over the moon that I was going to play for a former Brandon Wheat King. He’s been an outstanding coach, but most importantly, a phenomenal human being to work with. I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else.”

Coulter’s journey to Rapid City to play for the gentleman that won the second of Brandon’s only three championships, was a bit more complicated.

“I joke about my path to Rapid City and how it just never seemed to happen, but in all seriousness, this was the right time for me to play for Coach Tetrault and this team. It may not have been the correct years to play here in the years before, but given the leadership and staff we have now at this moment, I’m glad this was the year that it all came together,” Coulter began to explain. “After my Wheat Kings career ended, I had a few professional offers on the table, one of them being the Rush. I chose the Allen Americans instead, and didn’t make the team out of training camp. Instead, I was signed by the Jacksonville Icemen.

“I left there to play at the University of Calgary for a season. My ECHL rights were protected by Jacksonville and I didn’t want to go back, so I decided to play in Sweden,” Coulter continued, “After the hold on my rights expired, I knew this was the right time to sign with the Rush. Having Josh here as well, who has been a big brother to me, made it even more special. It’s like having family here, and now its home. It was definitely a long time coming.”

Coulter too went on about his Head Coach and his legendary status in Brandon.

“All of the stories checked out,” Coulter said. “Take Peter’s observation of me and himself, how we didn’t change after five years. Coach is the same way. He hasn’t changed in 20 years. He’s an outstanding person, a funny guy, and a calming presence.

“And of course, after learning I signed, Peter signed a week later,” Coulter was sure to point out.

Quenneville’s situation in coming to Rapid City was unique as he was returning from three seasons in Europe.

“This last offseason, I was working with an agent, who, ironically enough, happens to live in Brandon. The European opportunities were really slow. Coults knows him, and Coach Tetrault knows him personally as well. At that point, I considered coming back to North America, and he told me that Coach Tetrault was interested and that he was a former ‘Wheatie’. We set up a call, and Coach showed me the love right from the get-go. I knew it would be a great opportunity.

“In Brandon, there is a board of all of the Captains, and his name is on there,” Quenneville added. “Part of playing in Brandon is that the organization tries to remind you of the people that came before you. There are countless pictures and paintings of former players, champions, and those that made it to the NHL, serving as a constant reminder of the winning culture of the organization.”

Just as much as it was on the player to choose to sign the Rush, Coach Tetrault had homework on each one to do.

“Word of mouth really helps in recruiting, but Wheat Kings always tend to stick together it seems. We all help in recruiting, especially with these three,” Coach Tetrault commented. “All three of them have a unique story as to how they came to the Rush, and my connections with the Wheat Kings really helped.

“Overall, this has been so special to have this connection with the four of us here in Rapid City. Hockey really is a small world, eh?” Tetrault finished. “You don’t see this too often where you have this many players either from the same program, let alone the same town where it all really started for us. ‘Once a Wheat King, always a Wheat King’, right? The fact that we all had some kind of hand in the organization is remarkable.”

Regardless of how expansive the world of hockey is, there are many moments over the years that make it feel so microscopic. Quenneville ended with this thought: “It’s funny to see how, no matter where they are, or what they’re doing in hockey after all these years, all the ‘Wheaties’ tend to stick together, past and present.”

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