CALGARY, AB -- For the first time in his four-year WHL career, Calgary Flames prospect Morgan Klimchuk’s got a playoff beard going.
Klimchuk and his Brandon Wheat Kings are thrust in a lengthy postseason run as they prepare to take on the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL Championship series, which kicks off on Friday in The Wheat City.
After being dealt to the Wheat Kings from the Regina Pats near the 2015 WHL trade deadline, the 6-foot, 185-pound forward has never had his face follicles grow so long as he goes deep in the playoffs for the first time.
“It’s pretty bad. Mine’s pretty patchy and spotty,” Klimchuk said of his developing playoff beard. “You do what you can to keep the tradition going, it’s a fun part of the playoffs.”
Klimchuk’s move to the Wheat Kings from the Pats is the equivalent of a Flames player heading to the Edmonton Oilers or Vancouver Canucks.
The Wheat Kings and Pats are two of the WHL’s fiercest rivals, so it was a little odd for Klimchuk to throw on Brandon colours after spending the majority of his junior career in Regina.
As a Pat, Klimchuk tallied 98 goals and 119 assists for 217 points.
“It is weird to go to a team that you hated so much and join their ranks,” he said after defeating his former team 4-1 in Round 2 of the WHL Playoffs. “It was different, but I have been happy with the transition and I can’t say enough about the Wheat Kings organization. It worked out really well.”
On Jan. 2, Klimchuk was traded by the Pats to the Wheat Kings for 17-year-old winger Jesse Gabrielle, thrusting the Flames' 2013 first round pick (28th overall) at the 2013 NHL Draft into the Memorial Cup conversation.
Since then, he compiled 20 goals and 30 assists in 33 games for the Wheat Kings as they captured the 2014-2015 WHL regular season crown before taking out the Edmonton Oil Kings, Pats and Calgary Hitmen in the playoffs to come within four wins of a berth to the big dance in Quebec City.
Along with fellow Flames prospect and Wheat Kings over-age defenceman Eric Roy, Klimchuk has been critical to his new team’s playoff success, contributing a pair of goals and seven assists in nine post-season games.
With the Pats, Klimchuk never advanced past the second round of the WHL’s second season.
“Whenever you are playing hockey this time of year, it’s a good feeling,” the 19-year-old winger said. “I haven’t really had a taste of that and it’s something we are looking to make the most of and keep it rolling.”
A native of Calgary, Klimchuk is thrilled to be a part of the “C of Red” as the team that drafted him is involved in a deep playoff run of their own.
He added that sometimes, he finds himself watching the Flames as a fan, rather than a prospect.
“It’s hard to miss it because of how exciting it has been,” he said of the Flames as they take on the Anaheim Ducks in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “I give them props because they play hard and are one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NHL right now.”
Although while taking on the Hitmen in the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series, Klimchuk had a chance to brush shoulders with the Flames organization at the Scotiabank Saddledome, he said “it’s all business right now.”
“It’s a key time of the year for both of us so there’s not a lot of chit chat right now,” Klimchuk explained. “There’s just an exchange of handshakes and saying good luck because at the end of the day we are here for business and looking to get wins. It’s been good to see them but we are all focused on the task at hand.”