Wednesday, 23 May 2018

“Man of Steel” rises again for Pats in 6-5 win over Broncos

Regina eliminates Swift Current from Memorial Cup

Captain Sam Steel pushed the Pats into the Memorial Cup semifinal.
    REGINA, Sask. – The Regina Pats needed every bit of Sam Steel’s heroics as “the Man of Steel.”
    The Pats captain had five assists to help his team outlast a determined Swift Current Broncos side 6-5 in the final round robin game for both clubs at the Memorial Cup championship tournament on Wednesday night at the Brandt Centre.
    Steel’s effort almost wasn’t enough as Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin and Finnish import left-winger Aleksi Heponiemi pulled a Batman and Robin act to give the WHL champions every shot to pull out a victory before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators. 
    Gawdin had two goals and an assist, while Heponiemi had a goal and three assists.
Glenn Gawdin had two goals and an assist for the Broncos.
    With the win, the Pats conclude the round robin portion of the tournament with a 2-1 record and advance to play the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs (2-1) in a semifinal playoff game on Friday at 8 p.m. at the Brandt Centre.
    The QMJHL champion Acadie Bathurst Titan (2-1) qualified for the championship contest of the Memorial Cup thanks to the result of Wednesday’s round robin game. While the Pats, Bulldogs and Titan all had identical round robin records, the Titan finished first and the Bulldogs second thanks to a tiebreaking rule that used a mathematical formula involving the goals for and goals against between the three clubs in their head-to-head games.
    The Broncos finished 0-3 in the round robin portion of the Memorial Cup and were eliminated from making the playoff round of the CHL championship tournament.
Aleksi Heponiemi had a goal and three assists for the Broncos.
    Swift Current lost all three of its games at the Memorial Cup by a one-goal margin. The Broncos had finished second overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 48-17-5-2 mark.
    “They (the Broncos) are just a really good team,” said Steel. “They have a lot of heart to fight back.
    “We saw that tonight. We played a good game, got up and we knew they were going to have a push. It was good.”
    Steel helped the Pats go ahead 1-0 at the 7:36 mark of the first period, while working on the power play. The Sherwood Park, Alta., product found linemate Nick Henry with a backdoor pass in the left slot, and Henry fired home his first of three goals on the night.
    The Pats extended their lead to 2-0 at the 10:29 mark of the third working on another power play.
Left-winger Nick Henry had a hat trick for the Pats.
    Steel passed the puck from the right boards to linemate Cameron Hebig at the left post of the Swift Current goal, and Hebig redirected the puck into the net to give Regina a two-goal edge.
    At that point, the goals came at a rapid pace. Gawdin netted his first of the night at the 11:46 mark of the second to cut the Pats lead to 2-1. Steel set up Henry for his second goal of the contest at the 16:09 mark of the second, while Regina was short-handed to make the score 3-1 in the Pats favour.
    Just 23 seconds after Henry’s short-handed marker, Beck Malenstyn scored a power-play goal for Swift Current to cut Regina’s edge to 3-2.
Broncos D Artyom Minulin turns the corner on Pats RW Cameron Hebig.
    The Pats extended their lead to 4-2, when Steel found Henry with a crazy pass across the face of the Broncos goal. Henry fired his third tally of the night into the open left side of the net.
    “I just had a couple of good passes and guys were putting it in,” said Steel. “They were finding the right spots.
    “It is good to chip in. We got the win, and that is the most important thing. I’m just focused on getting a championship here.”
    The Pats appeared to seal the game away, when left-winger Bryce Platt scored at the 10:43 mark of the third period to put Regina up 5-2.
Libor Hajek scored the winning goal for the Pats.
    The Broncos fought back again. Heponiemi scored at the 14:22 mark of third, and Giorgio Estephan flipped a close in shot over Pats netminder Max Paddock at the 17:11 mark of the third to cut the Regina lead to 5-4. Estephan scored his goal after the Broncos pulled netminder Stuart Skinner for an extra attacker.
    With 2:12 to play in the third, the Broncos were penalized for too many men during a mix up, when they tried to pull Skinner again for an extra attacker. The extra attacker jumped on to the ice, while Skinner froze on his way to the Swift Current bench.
    On the ensuing power play, Steel got the puck to Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek. Hajek skated low slot to the left side of the Swift Current goal and put a shot past Skinner to give the Pats a 6-4 lead with 1:37 to play.
    Just as the Pats faithful were heavy in their celebrations, Gawdin potted his second of the contest with 49.5 seconds to play in the third to cut the Pats edge to 6-5. Gawdin’s goal came with the Broncos working on the power play.
    At that point, the sizable contingent of Broncos fans in attendance roared louder than they had at any point in the game.
The Pats celebrate Libor Hajek’s winning goal.
    In the final seconds, the Pats had a couple of big shot blocks, which helped preserve victory.
Paddock made 26 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Pats. Skinner turned away 22 shots to take the setback in goal for the Broncos.
    Way back on April 2, the Broncos knocked the Pats out of the WHL playoffs taking Game 7 of a first round series 3-2 at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current. Steel said the Pats expected a big battle.
    “We knew what was on the line,” said Steel. “We knew these guys knocked us out.
    “We knew they were a really good team. We came out hungry.”
    Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock was pleased with Steel’s product on Wednesday, and the veteran bench boss said he was impressed with how Steel ensures he always ready to play.
    “He does everything he possibly can to prepare himself to play a game in practice,” said Paddock. “I think it relates a lot to his upbringing.
The fans at the Brandt Centre salute the Pats after their win.
    “He is extremely skilled. You just never have to worry about him. That is a really good compliment for a player when you don’t have to worry about him being ready to play.”
    Now the Pats look forward to playing the Bulldogs. Regina beat Hamilton 3-2 in the round robin clash between the two sides to open the Memorial Cup back on May 18. Henry scored the winning goal in that contest with 32.6 seconds to play in the third period.
    “We heard they weren’t too happy with their play,” said Steel, who leads all players in scoring at the Memorial Cup with one goal and 10 assists. “We expect a better performance out of them.
    “We have to be prepared for it and just come out and lay it all on the line.”

Stanley Cup pays a visit, other notes

Broncos supporters are picture with the Stanley Cup and Memorial Cup.
    Two of hockey’s biggest trophies were the centre of attention at Fanfest on Wednesday.
    The Stanley Cup made a visit to the Memorial Cup tournament, and fans could have their pictures taken with it and the Memorial Cup at the same time. It was a rare opportunity to see the biggest prize in professional hockey and major junior hockey at the same time.
    There was a pretty healthy lineup of fans willing to see both trophies in the 75 minutes leading up to Wednesday’s contest. With the final round robin clash featuring the two Saskatchewan entries at the Memorial Cup, fans wearing apparel of the WHL champion Swift Current Broncos and the host Regina Pats dominated the lineup of people waiting to have their pictures taken with the two iconic trophies.
  • During the press conference following Swift Current’s elimination from the tournament on Wednesday, Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros said the club’s star right-winger Tyler Steenbergen suffered a concussion in the team’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan last Saturday. Steenbergen missed the Broncos last two round robin games. Viveiros said Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin has been playing with a separated shoulder since the third round of the WHL post-season and Russian import defenceman Artyom Minulin is going to have shoulder surgery in the off-season.
  • Including play in the regular season, WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament, the Broncos took the ice for 101 games in 2017-18.
  • The round robin portion of the Memorial Cup was extremely competitive as five of the six games were decided by a one-goal margin. The one contest that wasn’t decided by a one-goal margin came last Sunday, when the Acadie-Bathurst Titan downed the Pats 8-6 with the aid of an empty-net goal.
  • Bulldogs 19-year-old netminder Kaden Fulcher tops all goalies at the Memorial Cup with the lowest goals against average at 2.01 and the highest save percentage at .931. Fulcher is the only starting puck stopper to have a goals against average that is under three goals allowed per game.
  • The annual Memorial Cup tournament brings together people from all over the hockey world. On Monday, I got to visit veteran junior hockey broadcaster Peter Loubardias, Swift Current Broncos athletic trainer Jamie LeBlanc, Regina Pats athletic trainer Greg Mayer and Prince Albert Raiders athletic trainer Duane Bartley at the same time. All four are great people, and you felt like you were hanging out with the cool kids when you are around them.
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