Thursday, 13 April 2017

How ‘bout them Broncos

Ryley Lindgren (#18) and the Broncos have surprised in the WHL playoffs.
    If you live in Swift Current, Sask., and you don’t know the Broncos are in a playoff series, you are living under a rock.
    During the current WHL post-season, the Swift Current Broncos players have been wearing t-shirts that ask why can’t it be their team that does special things in the playoffs and makes a long run. Every time the Broncos hit the ice, you start to wonder how far they can take their run.
    At the moment, the Broncos are on the cusp of manufacturing a monumental upset. They lead a best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Regina Pats 3-1 and can close things out in Game 5 on Friday night in a game that starts at 7 p.m. local time at the Brandt Centre in Regina.
    The Pats, of course, finished first overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 52-12-7-1 record, and they were rated first in the final CHL top 10 rankings, which were released on March 22.
    Regina was often ranked first in the CHL top 10 rankings throughout the 2016-17 campaign.
Jordan Papirny picked up his 40th career WHL playoff win on Tuesday.
    Going into the post-season, the Broncos were one of those teams you had to be aware of. They finished 10th overall in the WHL standings with a solid 39-23-4-6 mark and finished the regular season winning seven of their last 10 games.
    Swift Current boasts two top forward lines that are as good as any of the elite teams in the WHL. The Broncos also have a sound group of defencemen and a proven playoff winner in goal. One of the few things the Broncos didn’t have was high expectations to go far in the post-season by the pundits that follow the league.
    The Broncos are proving what the pundits think doesn’t matter as long as they believe in themselves.
    After taking out the powerful Moose Jaw Warriors in an exciting seven-game first round series, the Broncos added to their playoff magic. They won two overtime games to take a 2-1 series lead against the Pats, and extended that series edge to 3-1 with an epic triple overtime victory on Tuesday in Swift Current.
    In Game 4 on Tuesday, the Broncos erased deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to go ahead 4-3. After the Pats tied things up at 4-4 in the dying seconds of the third period, both clubs embarked on a marathon march through extra time.
    At the 9:54 mark of the third overtime frame, Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin knocked home the winner on a power play from the front of the Regina goal. Most of the sellout crowd of 2,890 at the Credit Union i-Plex remained in the rink and exploded in joy when the winning tally went in.
The Broncos fans have been excited for their team.
    The two guys you had to feel sorry for were Pats netminder Tyler Brown, who made 64 saves in the setback, and Pats left-winger Dawson Leedahl, who had a gritty four-goal night.
    The biggest star had to be Broncos overage netminder Jordan Papirny, who made 65 stops to pick up his 40th career WHL playoff victory. Papirny was acquired by the Broncos in a trade with the Brandon Wheat Kings on the WHL’s trade deadline day back on Jan. 10. He backstopped the Wheat Kings to a WHL title a year ago and into the WHL championship series in 2015.
    In 60 career WHL playoff starts, Papirny has posted a 40-20 record, a 2.71 goals against average, a .918 save percentage and two shutouts.
    Lots of the Broncos reliable standouts came up with big nights in the Game 4 overtime win over the Pats. Overage centre Ryley Lindgren had two goals and two assists and standout winger Tyler Steenbergen had a goal and an assist.
    Defencemen Artyom Minulin and Colby Sissons, who are both in their 18-year-old seasons, kept coming into their own. Minulin, who is an import from Russia, had a goal and was a plus-two in the plus-minus department. Sissons had a couple of helpers and was a plus-one.
    The Pats have been hurt due to losing captain Adams Brooks to injury in Game 2 of the series with the Broncos. It is believed Brooks’s status is day to day.
Glenn Gawdin had a big triple OT winner for the Broncos.
    Pats standout centre Jake Leschyshyn is out for the post-season with a knee injury. Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post is reporting that Pats import winger Filip Ahl is being tested for the mumps, so Ahl’s status hinges on those results.
    Without that trio, the Pats haven’t looked the same, and their offensive success has come from grit as opposed to finesse.
    On the other side, the Broncos have been road warriors going 18-13-1-4 away from home in the regular season and posting a 4-2 mark on the road during playoffs. 
    At home in Swift Current, the Broncos are a respectable 3-2 playing in front of unreal raucous crowds. 
    Visitors are going to be hard pressed to win in the Credit Union i-Plex from here on out.
    The Broncos have been the story so far of the 2017 WHL post-season. 
    At the moment, you can expect they will do their best to make their story more memorable.

Beware the Thunderbirds

Mathew Barzal in action in last year WHL title series.
    The Seattle Thunderbirds have to be the favourites to make the WHL championship series out of the Western Conference for a second straight year.
    During the regular season, the Thunderbirds posted the second best record in the Western Conference with a 46-20-4-2 mark. They swept the Tri-City Americans 4-0 in a best-of-seven first round series and are on the cusp of sweeping the Everett Silvertips in a best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.
    The Thunderbirds lead their set with the Silvertips 3-0 and will try for the sweep in Game 4 on Friday at 7:30 p.m. local time at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Wash. Everett topped the Western Conference in the regular season with a 44-16-9-3 mark.
    With 14 skaters on their roster from last year’s squad, you have to think Seattle had visions of returning to the WHL final and winning it. The biggest returnee is dynamic 19-year-old centre Mathew Barzal.
    A reminder of that was seen in the Thunderbirds 5-4 overtime win in Game 3 over the Silvertips on Tuesday in Kent, Wash. With the Silvertips holding a 4-3 lead, Barzal scored early in the third period to force a 4-4 tie and scored the winner 90 seconds into overtime to deliver Seattle to victory.
    Barzal missed part of the end of the regular season and Seattle’s first round series with what the team is saying was an illness. The Thunderbirds said Barzal was being tested for the mumps in early March.
    In three playoff games against the Silvertips, Barzal has three goals and three assists. After being returned by the NHL’s New York Islanders, Barzal recorded 10 goals, 69 assists and a plus-32 rating in 41 regular season games with the Thunderbirds.
    Seattle has been powered by other key returnees like forwards Ryan Gropp, Keegan Kolesar and Nolan Volcan along with star defenceman Ethan Bear.
    The biggest surprise during Seattle’s playoff run is that fact it has been backed with rookie Carl Stankowski playing goal, who is still in his 16-year-old rookie season. Stankowski has won all seven of his playoff starts posting a 2.42 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.
    Thunderbirds overage starting netminder Rylan Toth hasn’t appeared in the post-season due to a lower body injury.
    Seattle is definitely a club you can’t overlook.

Will Hurricanes run out of steam against Tigers?

John Dahlstrom had a big overtime winner for the Tigers.
    One has to wonder if fatigue will become a nemesis for the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
    On Wednesday, the Hurricanes dropped a 3-2 decision in overtime at the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge to their Highway 3 rivals the Medicine Hat Tigers in Game 4 of their WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series. With the win, the Tigers even the best-of-seven set 2-2 with Game 5 set for Friday in Medicine Hat at 7:30 p.m. local time at the Canalta Centre.
    The Hurricanes were up 2-0 after the first period in Game 4 thanks to goals coming from the sticks of Giorgio Estephan and Egor Babenko. Medicine Hat worked back to even terms with a second period goal from Chad Butcher and a third period power-play tally from Max Gerlach. Swedish import John Dahlstrom snipped the winning goal for the Tigers at the 11:32 mark of the extra session.
    Michael Bullion turned away 28 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Tigers to disappoint most of the 4,920 spectators in attendance. Stuart Skinner was spectacular in the Hurricanes goal turning away 56 shots in the setback.
    The Tigers swept their best-of-seven first round series with the Brandon Wheat Kings, while the Hurricanes rallied from being down 3-1 in their best-of-seven opening round series with the Red Deer Rebels to pull out a 4-3 win.
    Wednesday’s game was the 11th contest in 19 days for the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes didn’t seem to have the same jump as the Tigers did in Game 4. Fatigue might be setting in on the Lethbridge side, which might mean Wednesday’s setback could prove to be very costly.
    Instead of being up in the series 3-1 and having a chance to close things out on Friday, the Hurricanes know they are now locked in a long series with the Tigers that will require at least a Game 6. That situation plays in Medicine Hat’s favour.
    The Tigers have to like where they are sitting in the series going forward. The Hurricanes will have to really dig down to pull out a couple of wins on will.

Rockets on verge of dumping Winterhawks

Cole Kehler’s Winterhawks are on the ropes versus the Rockets.
    Another playoff year means another long run for the Kelowna Rockets.
    The Rockets are on the verge of advancing to the WHL’s Western Conference championship series for a fourth straight year. On Wednesday at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon, the Rockets thrashed the host Winterhawks 7-2 in Game 4 of a best-of-seven WHL Western Conference semifinal series.
    With the win, the Rockets lead the set 3-1 and will try to close things out in Game 5 on Friday at Prospera Place in Kelowna, which will start at 7 p.m. local time.
    Reid Gardiner had two goals and two assists for the Rockets, while Calvin Thurkauf added two goals and an assist to the visitor’s efforts. The Rockets received singles form Carsen Twarynski, Nick Merkley and Rodney Southam. Michael Herringer turned away 35 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Rockets and disappoint most of the 4,469 in attendance.
    Cody Glass and Caleb Jones replied with singles for the Winterhawks. Cole Kehler turned away 26-of-32 shots taking the loss in goal for the Winterhawks. Shane Farkas turned away seven-of-eight shots finishing the game in goal for Portland in relief.
    The Rockets lost out in last year’s Western Conference championship series to Seattle.

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