Sunday, 22 April 2018

Hurricanes prove they are for real in battle with Broncos

Hurricanes LW Taylor Ross speeds by Broncos C Giorgio Estephan.
    The Lethbridge Hurricanes didn’t remain in the purgatory of reloading for long.
    After two games in the WHL Eastern Conference championship series, the underdog Hurricanes have given the favoured Swift Current Broncos all they can handle. The Broncos lead the best-of-seven series 2-0 on the strength of two wins in Swift Current. They took Game 1 on Friday 3-2 and Game 2 on Saturday 4-3 in overtime.
    Those two games could have easily gone the other way. Actually, had an early overtime shot by sophomore defenceman Calen Addison been an inch to the left on Saturday night at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex, the Hurricanes would be heading home to play Game 3 at the Enmax Centre on Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time with the series even at 1-1.
    With how the first two games have played out, it could be argued that would have been a just result. The Hurricanes host Game 4 at 7 p.m. local time on Wednesday at the Enmax Centre.
    The Broncos finished second overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 48-17-5-2 record. They made it to the conference final eliminating the Memorial Cup hosting Regina Pats, who finished seventh overall in the regular season with a 40-25-6-1 mark, in a tough seven game series in the first round and taking out the Moose Jaw Warriors, who topped the WHL regular season standings with a 52-15-2-3 record, in a difficult seven game series in the second round.
Hurricanes RW Dylan Cozens poke checks Broncos RW Tyler Steenbergen.
    The Hurricanes finished 16th overall in the regular season standings with a 33-33-6 mark, and with the WHL utilizing a hybrid format of playing through the division in playoffs, they had an easier bracket to navigate through.
    Lethbridge took out the Red Deer Rebels, who finished 17th overall in the regular season with a 27-32-10-3 mark, in five games in the first round, and disposed of a tougher Brandon Wheat Kings side, who finished eighth overall in the regular season with a 40-27-3-2 record, in five games in the second round.
    These teams are familiar with each other thanks to the fact Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt and Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros, who are both good friends, made a blockbuster deal on Jan. 9 - one day before the WHL’s trade deadline.
    In that trade, the Hurricanes sent overage captain and star centre Giorgio Estephan, star 19-year-old netminder Stuart Skinner and winger Tanner Nagel, who turned 20 in late January, to the Broncos.
Jordy Bellerive has developed into a star for the Hurricanes.
    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.
    Following the Broncos overtime win on Saturday, Viveiros stated his side expected the Hurricanes to be far from a pushover.
    “We’re not surprised with how good Lethbridge is,” said Viveiros. “We knew they are a good hockey team.
    “They have good goaltending, and they are well coached. They are going to give us everything they have to give. If we don’t play well, they can beat us. We have to play as well as we can.”
    When the Hurricanes and Broncos made their trade on Jan. 9, it appeared the Hurricanes had decided to look to the future acquiring younger players and draft picks, while the Broncos were strengthening their roster for a long playoff run this season. As it has turned out, both teams have made a long post-season foray.
    In 2016-17, the Hurricanes had an older roster and posted a 44-21-4-3 record to finish seventh overall in the WHL. They advanced to the Eastern Conference championship series falling in six games to the Regina Pats, who topped the league regular season standings in that campaign with a 52-12-7-1 mark.
Logan Flodell has been stellar in goal for the Hurricanes.
    That Hurricanes team was powered by the exploits of star captain Tyler Wong and star offensive defenceman Brennan Menell, who now plays for Iowa Wild of the AHL. The Iowa Wild are the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.
    At the moment, the Hurricanes only have six hold overs from their team at this time last year in centres Jordy Bellerive and Jadon Joseph, right-winger Dylan Cozens, and defencemen Addison, Ty Prefontaine and Igor Merezhko.
    In advancing to the conference final this season, the Hurricanes have built an obvious togetherness. They are playing for each other and are intent on doing everything they can to ensure the 2017-18 campaign continues into the WHL Championship series.
    On Friday night, the Hurricanes outshot the Broncos 41-30 in Game 1, and a stellar 39 save performance from Skinner allowed the Broncos to pull out victory. On Saturday night, the Hurricanes outshot the Broncos 39-33 and led 3-2 after the second period. The Broncos scored to force overtime, and Addison rang a shot off the post of the Swift Current goal early in the extra session to almost deliver victory to the Hurricanes.
    Estephan recorded a hat trick that night including the overtime winner to give the Broncos the win.
The Hurricanes plan to celebrate a few more goals in the post-season.
    As far as playing style goes, the Hurricanes appear to be a younger version of the Broncos. Both squads like to get up and down the ice, play with skill and make some big hits.
    The similarities have made the series entertaining to watch.
    The rapid improvement of the Hurricanes, while surprising, doesn’t come as a total shock. Anholt has one of the smartest hockey minds you will find anywhere, and third-year head coach Brent Kisio is one of the circuit’s elite bench bosses.
    If the Hurricanes can win Game 3, this series could still be a long way from being over. Even if the series ends up being a short one, the Hurricanes are poised to go down fighting.

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