The Regina Pats opened their 2012-13 WHL campaign with a game last night in Brandon against the Wheat Kings. Tonight at Brandt Centre at 7 p.m. the Pats open the home portion of their season with a rematch against the Wheat Kings.

Last year, the Pats’ exceeded expectations somewhat by making the playoffs after a three or four year drought. They were bounced in the first round by the Moose Jaw Warriors, but the team did gain some valuable playoff experience.

During most of the drought years the Pats featured NHL-calibre players like Jordan Eberle and Colton Teubert, but seemed to lack cohesion and grit as a team and rarely met, let alone exceeded, expectations. Last year, the Pats were led by another WHL star — Jordan Weal. He’s in the Stanley Cup-champion L.A. Kings’ system and won’t be with the team this year. But the Pats do have many returnees, and appear to be pretty solid defensively and in goal.

One wild card could be the current NHL lock-out, which might see some top draft picks return to their WHL clubs instead of sticking with the pros. The Pats aren’t in line for that sort of largesse, but they do have a veteran line-up. At present, in fact, they have four 20-year olds on the roster and will have to reduce that number to three by early October. But under second-year head coach Pat Conacher the team should be a solid contender in the WHL this year.