The long road back to the top


Lang tries to rebuild struggling Pats franchise

Colin Buchinski

Weeks into the WHL season, the Regina Pats already find themselves in the basement. A 2-7-1 start puts them last in the East Division and their on-ice performance hasn’t been respectable.

Thus far, attendance has been less than average and fans are getting more restless by the day. The boo-birds have graced the Brandt Centre and most fans are more or less apathetic.

This season, the Pats have shown a total lack of offence with close to zero size up front and have played a dump and chase, crash and burn type game up to this point. It is clear they are better suited for a north-south, transition style of game. The lone bright spot this season has been the play of rookie goaltender Matt Hewitt. He is the goaltender of the future and should be given plenty of playing experience this season.

Outside of 18-year-old Los Angeles Kings draft pick Jordan Weal, Pats fans have little to be excited about and prospects for the future look very bleak. The 2010 Bantam Draft saw the Pats select centre Morgan Klimchuk fifth overall. In the future, he adds great skating ability and the ability to put the puck in the net at key times. Other notable pickups included forward Chandler Stephenson and defencemen Landon Peel. The Pats roster consists of a lot of 1993-1994 born players, none of which seem to be blue chip prospects. The Pats rely on captain Garrett Mitchell and 20-year-olds Thomas Frazee, Colin Reddin, and newly-acquired Mark Schneider to help groom these youngsters for the future.

Last season, former GM Brent Parker had a huge chance to stockpile assets for the future by trading hometown superstar Jordan Eberle and defencemen Colten Teubert. He kept both players and the Pats missed the playoffs. Teubert and Eberle are now long gone and the Pats have nothing to show for it. Parker also went out and acquired Carter Ashton from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in exchange for a first round pick. The Pats lost a valuable pick in the deal and leave new GM Chad Lang scrambling to try to get value back for Ashton who will likely join the Tampa Bay Lightning next year.

In recent years, some fans have been clamouring for Parker to be replaced with a sharper hockey mind – someone with experience who can turn this sinking ship around. The team has missed the playoffs two years in a row and haven’t had a trip to the conference final since 1993. On this roster was veteran NHLer Jason Smith. This year, Pats fans receive their wish, in a way, with the introduction of Lang as new GM.

The Pats are in full rebuild mode, a task that is not going to be easy for Lang. Parker has left the team with little hope for the future. The Pats haven’t been anywhere near a contender since they hosted the Memorial Cup in 2001, but failed to win after a heartbreaking OT loss to the Val’Dor Foreurs in the semifinal. The Pats threw away the future to host that tournament and they haven’t been able to recover since. One would think nine years would be sufficient rebuild/recovery time.

Apparently not. Parker, son of owner Russ Parker, failed in a big way.

Lang has made various deals and over time hopes to make a huge impact and return this Pats franchise to its former glory. Some of these deals include the following: shipping forwards Hampus Gustafsson and Killian Hutt to Brandon and Swift Current for draft picks, dealing 18-year-old Dominick Favreau to Brandon for 20-year-old defensemen Mark Schneider, acquiring Slovakian right winger Juraj Roznik and shoring up the blueline with former Prince George Cougar captain Art Bidlevskii. At the beginning of the year, he also acquired 20-year-old Thomas Frazee from the Moose Jaw Warriors, but gave up a second round pick in the process. The Frazee trade screams Toronto Maple Leaf style rebuild. However, the Pats have to do something to ensure attendance and this trade may help in that department.

Overall, these trades add a lot more size to one of the smallest teams in the WHL. They also allow more ice time for younger players, while adding more talent and experience to the roster. Looking further into the future, trading Ashton before the deadline is an absolute must this year and possibly trading Weal next year will be a topic of discussion for Lang. Only time will tell if he can fix the disaster left behind by the Parkers.

The Pats host the Swift Current Broncos on Friday, 7 p.m., at the Brandt Centre. Go out and support the Pats. The Parkers have finally realized they need a change at the top. Remember all the good times we’ve had here with players like Holden, Tipler, Kane, Nabokov, Lysak, Gordon, Jackman, Stuart, etc. The Pats will one day be there again.

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