Raspberry treatment can hurt worse depending on situation
|Giorgio Estephan in action for the Hurricanes in the 2017 WHL playoffs.|
When the Swift Current Broncos and Lethbridge Hurricanes advanced to meet each other in the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference championship series, one of the big plot lines that came to mind revolved around a blockbuster trade the two teams made with each other on Jan. 9, which was one day before the WHL’s trade deadline.
In that deal, the Hurricanes sent star overage captain Giorgio Estephan, star 19-year-old netminder Stuart Skinner and winger Tanner Nagel, who turned 20 in late January, to the Broncos.
In exchange, the Broncos sent overage star netminder Logan Flodell, rookie centre Logan Barlage, who turned 17 in early January, sophomore centre Owen Blocker, who turned 18 in late March, sophomore defenceman Matthew Stanley, who turned 20 in early February, a first round selection and a third round selection in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft and a future conditional second round pick in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft to the Hurricanes.
The on ice battle has been intriguing. The Broncos entered the series as favourites having finished second overall in the WHL’s regular season with a 48-17-5-2 record, while the Hurricanes were 16th overall with a 33-33-6 mark.
The Broncos lead the series 3-2 taking all three games held in Swift Current by a one-goal margin each time out. The Hurricanes won both contests held in Lethbridge by respective 5-1 scores. Game 6 is set for Monday at the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge with a 7 p.m. local time start.
The other main compelling story has been the fact Estephan and Skinner have been the targets of heckles during the games held in Lethbridge. Social media lines have contained sizable debate about the treatment both players have received in their former WHL home rink on whether it is warranted or not.
|Stuart Skinner in action with the Hurricanes in 2017.|
I remember a visit I once had with former Saskatoon Blades owner Jack Brodsky. He told me that the fans paid money for the ticket, and if they don’t like the product they see on the ice, they have a right to “boo” or voice their displeasure with the product. The context of that visit did focus on the hometown fans being critical of the home team.
For myself, I am good with fans booing or heckling players on the ice. I realize the players can range in age from the 15-year-old call up to the overager that just celebrated his 21st birthday. Major junior is supposed to help prepare players for life in the professional ranks, and dealing with hecklers is part of that training too.
If you don’t learn how to deal with that in rinks with 5,000 spectators, how do you deal with that in professional rinks with 18,000 spectators?
Historically in major junior hockey, there have been players who have relished being the villain in opposition rinks like Sean O’Connor when he played for the Moose Jaw Warriors, Tanner Shultz when he played for the Blades or Derek Dorsett when he played for the Medicine Hat Tigers. They are looking forward to the hecklers on the road.
Of course, there is a line. Fans shouldn’t do anything that physically harms a player, yell something derogatory based on race or scream you wished a certain player was dead.
In the case of Estephan and Skinner, it feels like an unwritten code of respect has been broke. Of course, hockey is full of unwritten codes.
Both were selected in the WHL Bantam Draft by the Hurricanes and played in Lethbridge for an extended time. Estephan, who was picked fourth overall in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, was with the Hurricanes for four-and-a-half seasons, and Skinner, who was selected 17th overall in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, played there for three-and-a-half seasons. They were in Lethbridge long enough to establish lifelong connections.
On top of that, both joined the Hurricanes during a dark era, when the team missed the playoffs for six consecutive seasons from 2009-10 to 2014-15. After the Hurricanes went 12-55-2-3 in the 2013-14 season, it seemed a death watch was surrounding the team. The Hurricanes existence in Lethbridge was called into question at times.
|Giorgio Estephan in action for the Broncos in this year’s WHL playoffs.|
Things started to change when the Hurricanes hired Peter Anholt as the club’s assistant general manager before the start of the 2014-15 campaign. The veteran coach and hockey executive became the team’s head coach and general manager halfway through that campaign.
Before the start of the 2015-16 season, he stepped back as head coach and made the inspired move to hire Brent Kisio for that role.
On the players’ front, Estephan and Skinner were part of a group along with former Hurricanes captain Tyler Wong who wanted to be part of the solution in turning the team around. They played a huge part in helping the Hurricanes top the Central Division in 2015-16 with a 46-24-1-1 record.
In 2016-17, they helped the Hurricanes post a 44-21-4-3 mark to sit seventh overall in the league. They helped the Hurricanes win two seven game series in the playoffs to advance to the WHL Eastern Conference championship series falling to the Regina Pats in six games.
Wong graduated after that campaign, and Estephan and Skinner worked to assist a reloading Hurricanes club during the first half of this past season. They were not asking to be traded, and when an opportunity to make the deal with the Broncos came about, the Hurricanes gained players that could help in the present along with players and assets to be of aid in the future.
Both Estephan and Skinner are pretty good persons too.
Skinner sounded off on the Hurricanes fans following the Broncos 5-1 loss in Lethbridge in Game 4 last Wednesday. For everything they did in Lethbridge, the fan heckles Estephan and Skinner received in their playoff return to Lethbridge felt at least uncomfortable.
|Stuart Skinner in action for the Broncos in this year’s WHL playoffs.|
Brown had been the target of distain from a sizable group of Pats fans on social media and sports talk radio, when the team hovered around .500 for the first half of the season. When Brown returned to Regina with the Blades on Jan. 24, he was given a standing ovation and a video tribute.
Of course, the big difference was Brown never did play against the Pats in the post-season.
When the playoff series between the Broncos and Hurricanes wraps up, here is hoping the Lethbridge fans that got on both Estephan and Skinner remember what they did do for the Hurricanes and tip the cap to both whey they return to Lethbridge in the future.
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