The Brandon Wheat Kings have a new starting goaltender this season.
Carberry product Carson Bjarnason has officially taken over after spending last season as the backup at just 16-years-old. Through three starts, the goalie has stopped 97 shots en route to a record of 1-1-1. Bjarnason says it'll be a process to get fully adjusted to the starter role but he notes the challenge is exciting.
"It's new. It's something I've never really done before. It's going to be a big stepping stone. It's a good way to go into a draft year. I'm wanting to do the best I can and perform the best I can for the guys in front of me."
Bjarnason took part in 23 games last season and had a 0.882 save percentage as the Wheat Kings' backup. He says he can play with much more freedom this year, knowing he has the team and coaching staff's full confidence.
"For me to be able to make the saves I'm supposed to and some that I'm not, it's a big step from last year where they were just trying to get me into the league and get my feet wet," Bjarnason explains. "I think it's definitely a relief, knowing that they can play me and just let me do my thing back there."
The goalie notes getting the opportunity to see what the league was like last year and learn from a veteran has helped him greatly.
"I think just being able to watch my goalie partner last year and take away things he does well and doesn't do. It was a great experience and obviously furthered me to be where I am now."
Bjarnason and the Wheat Kings finished as the sixth seed in the WHL's Eastern Conference last season and he expects them to be a competitive playoff team again in 2022-23.
"We're a bit of a young team. We have a lot of talent, and we have a lot of depth. We have four lines, and we can run all four of those lines. That's obviously really promising for our future. Our defensive core seems pretty young, so being able to communicate with them is going to be a big thing for me and them this year," Bjarnason continues. "Every time a team comes into our building they're going to know it's going to be a tough game. We're going to be hard working and hard to play against."
The Carberry native had the opportunity this offseason to be a part of Team Canada's Hlinka Gretzky Cup roster, which is one of the most prestigious events a player under 18-years-old can be a part of. He describes the most important lesson he learned during that event.
"Just to not focus on the outside noise too much. It's going to be a big year for me, hopefully, playing a majority of the games and being able to get drafted. I think the big thing I took away from that experience is just to have fun and be able to focus on the game, and just block out all the outside noise and enjoy the time you have while you have it."
The 2005-born goaltender is keeping the NHL draft in the back of his mind but notes that won't be his main focus this season.
"When I went out and played with Team Canada, a big thing they stressed was just to go out and play, have fun, and do what I do best," Bjarnason explains. "It's definitely in the back of my mind but just being able to do it for myself and make everyone around me proud, I think is the biggest thing."
Bjarnason adds, outside of the NHL draft, his biggest goal for his sophomore campaign is to be reliable and consistent in net. He and the Wheat Kings will return to the ice on Monday to kick off an eight-game road trip starting off in Calgary against the Hitmen.