Sunday, 13 May 2018

Broncos are the West’s best

Swift Current wins third WHL title in city’s history

The Broncos celebrate with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. – For the first time in 25 years, Swift Current is the “title town” of the WHL.
    On Sunday before a sellout crowd of 2,890 spectators at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex, the host Swift Current Broncos blanked the Everett Silvertips 3-0 in Game 6 of the WHL Championship series. With the win, the Broncos claimed the best-of-seven series 4-2 to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    For the Broncos, it marked the third time they’ve won the league title in the team’s history in Swift Current.
    Their other victories came back in 1989 and 1993. Those three title win by the Broncos mark the last three times a Saskatchewan based team has captured the WHL crown.
    The Broncos also won the WHL title in 1983, when the franchise was located in Lethbridge.
    Veteran 19-year-old netminder Stuart Skinner made 31 saves to pick up his sixth shutout win of the post-season for the Broncos, and when the dust settled, the Edmonton product tried to find a way to express the joy of the moment.
Giorgio Estephan had the first goal on Sunday for the Broncos.
    “You can’t really put it into words,” said Skinner, who had a 2.20 goals against average and a .932 save percentage in the playoffs. “These group of guys are my family.
    “I will always remember this. No one will ever forget this. You can’t put into words how incredible it is and how good it feels to lift that cup over your head.”
    The Broncos had a big start jumping out to a 1-0 lead at the 6:41 mark of the first period. While working on the power play, star left-winger Aleksi Heponiemi found centre Giorgio Estephan with a backdoor pass, and Estephan buried his 13th goal of the post-season into an empty cage.
    As the opening 20 minutes neared a close, it appeared the Silvertips were going to withstand the Broncos initial push outside of Estephan’s goal. That changed in the dying seconds of the frame.
    Broncos defenceman Sahvan Khaira fired a shot from the point, and the puck squeaked between the legs of Silvertips star netminder Carter Hart and slid loose behind him in the crease.
The Broncos celebrate Giorgio Estephan’s power-play goal.
    Heponiemi, who is from Tampere, Finland, tucked home a loose puck to give the Broncos a 2-0 lead with 0.6 seconds remaining on the clock.
    Broncos star right-winger Tyler Steenbergen said that second goal put his team in a really good spot for the night.
    “It turned out to be huge,” said Steenbergen, who had an assist on the Broncos first goal. “We had the momentum going into the second.
    “They pushed back a little bit. At the end of the day, we got it done.”
    The Silvertips outshot the Broncos 14-8 in the second period, and Skinner’s play was key to the hosts holding on to their two-goal edge. While working on the power play early in the second, the Broncos gave the puck away in front of their own net to Silvertips left-winger Sean Richards.
Stuart Skinner makes one of his 31 saves for the Broncos on Sunday.
    Richards broke in alone on Skinner and was stoned by the Swift Current puck stopper. Later on in the second, Skinner proceeded to turn away a Silvertips chance during a frantic net scramble, and he stopped a couple of dangerous screen shots.
    “He (Skinner) is outstanding,” said Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros. “He is a big reason why we are here right now.
    “Without goaltending like that, we don’t have a chance. He has been the difference all the way through.”
    In the third, the Broncos sealed things up defensively not allowing the Silvertips really any real quality chances. Russian import defenceman Artyom Minulin and centre Matteo Gennaro came up with solid shot blocks on Silvertips captain Matt Fonteyne and left-winger Connor Dewar respectively.
Broncos LW Aleksi Heponiemi (#20) gets by Silvertips RW Patrick Bajkov.
    With 6.4 seconds remaining in the third period, Broncos left-winger Beck Malenstyn rounded out the scoring with an empty-net goal to put the hosts up 3-0, and that caused the spectators in attendance to explode in euphoria.
    “It is probably the most fun I have had in a playoff series especially here right now,” said Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin, who has been with the club for five full seasons. “It is nuts in here.
    “That’s what you want. To win like this makes it even more sweeter. Words can’t describe how I am feeling right now, so I am just going to enjoy it.”
    Having played with the Broncos for four seasons, Steenbergen just wanted to soak in the celebration as well.
    “It is unbelievable,” said Steenbergen. “It is one of the best feelings in the world winning, especially doing it with this group of guys.
The Broncos fans celebrate their team’s WHL title victory.
    “It is the best feeling anyone can ask for.”
    Hart turned away 22-of-24 shots to take the setback in goal for the Silvertips, who finished third overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 47-20-2-3 record.
    Gawdin, who is in his overage season and has a three-year NHL entry-level contract signed with the Calgary Flames, was named the MVP of the WHL playoffs recording 14 goals, 18 assists and a plus-10 rating in the plus-minus department in 24 post-season appearances. The Richmond, B.C., product had an assist on the Broncos second goal.
Glenn Gawdin takes a lap with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    “He (Gawdin) is everything,” said Viveiros. “He is a poster child for this league coming back as a 20-year-old and going to turn pro.
    “He wanted to get back with his teammates and finish this off right, a wonderful young man (and) an incredible ambassador for the league.”
    With the win, the Broncos, who finished second overall in the WHL regular season with a 48-17-5-2 mark, advance to the Memorial Cup CHL championship tournament, which begins Friday in Regina. The Broncos claimed their only Memorial Cup title back in 1989, when the event was held in Saskatoon.
    Steenbergen is looking forward with excitement with what is next for his team.
    “It is going to be pretty crazy,” said Steenbergen. “It will be my first time there, and I can’t wait.”
    Last year, Skinner backstopped the Lethbridge Hurricanes to the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series, where they fell 4-2 to the Regina Pats.
    He came to the Broncos in a blockbuster trade on Jan. 9 and is pumped to get the chance to play in major junior hockey’s most prestigious event.
Giorgio Estephan (#29) and Stuart Skinner enjoy the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    “Every single year, it has gotten closer and closer,” said Skinner. “Now, we are going to the Memorial Cup.
    “You can’t really put this into words. Being able to say that we are going to the Memorial Cup, it is unbelievable. This city has been waiting for it for a few years now. Being able to be the goalie to do it with them, it is the best feeling ever.”

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