Former Xtreme learning through adversity with WHL club
Playing in the WHL has been a learning curve for a former Airdrie Xtreme forward, but his third season is proving to be his biggest challenge yet.
Through his first two seasons with the team, Jason Swyripa, a former Airdrie Xtreme and UFA Bison, the Wheat Kings held a solid spot in the post-season with the team losing in the eastern quarter-final in his rookie year and in the semi-final last season.
This season has been a different story. The Wheat Kings are in danger of missing the playoffs, a position it hasn’t been in since 2000, which was the last time the Wheat Kings finished on the outside looking in on the WHL playoff picture. For all 12 of those seasons, the team has kicked off the post-season at the Keystone Centre in Brandon with home-ice advantage.
For Swyripa, the prospect of missing the playoffs and a season that Brandon has struggled through, has been one of the biggest eye-openers in his three-year WHL career.
“When you’re not winning games, you face a lot more adversity,” Swyripa said. “People’s true colours come to the surface a bit more. It can be miserable, but you learn to get through it.”
The Wheat Kings are sitting at the bottom of the WHL’s Eastern Conference with a 19-31-2-2 record and 42 points. It’s 11 points back of the eighth and final playoff spot, which is currently being held by the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Brandon is set on making a desperate run for the last spot, but it’s running out of time as there are only 17 games left in the regular season.
Statistically, reaching eighth place isn’t out of the realm of impossible for the Wheat Kings, but a lot would have to happen as far as the teams that are sitting atop the standings are concerned.
It’s a very different team than the one Swyripa played for last year. The summer saw quite a roster turnover with graduating players like Mark Stone and Brodie Melnychuk moving onto the AHL and CIS as well as the departure and arrival of several new players. Swyripa was one of the 12 returning players. Mid-season moves also shook up the roster with Alessio Bertaggia traded to Spokane and Michael Ferland to Saskatoon at the trade deadline.
Swyripa said he’s grown used to having new teammates on a yearly basis, but that it’s also been a part of the learning process. A rookie not too long ago, he’s now one of the team’s elder statesman at the age of 20 and has taken on the task of imparting what he’s learned on the new generation of Wheat Kings.
“I was in (the new players’) position at one time,” he said. “It’s definitely (changed my role) now that I’ve been in the organization for a while. I need to leave my mark on the team and show the young guys the way. I look at is a positive and a way to take on a leadership role.
“It’s a long year and you have to work hard everyday,” he added on what advice he’s given his new teammates. “You can’t take days off because there are teams that will step in front of you. You have to push yourself to be better even when you don’t want to.”
While a losing season can seem to stretch on painfully, Swyripa’s time with the team has passed by “in a flash,” he said. As he just turned 20 in January, Swyripa is eligible to play one more season with the Wheat Kings as an over-age player, but he knows the next year will pass even faster than the last three have.
“You don’t have much time in the league,” he said. “You blink your eye and the season’s over, but you can’t look too far ahead. I have to be focused on the here and now.”