Thursday, 24 May 2018

The heart of the WHL champion Broncos will live forever

The Broncos celebrate a goal from captain Glenn Gawdin, centre.
    REGINA, Sask. – They might have been running on fumes, but the Swift Current Broncos kept finding the emotional energy to keep pushing forward at the Memorial Cup.
    During their appearance in the CHL championship tournament, the Broncos showed the heart that allowed them to win the WHL championship this season. It marked the first time they won the league title in 25 years.
    The Broncos are responsible for the last three WHL championship victories by a Saskatchewan based club capturing the league crown this year, in 1993 and 1989. At the Memorial Cup, the Broncos were ultimately done in by the number of games they have played in the 2017-18 campaign.
    On Wednesday before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators at the Brandt Centre, the Broncos fell 6-5 to the host Regina Pats and were eliminated from making the Memorial Cup’s playoff round finishing last in the round robin at 0-3. Each Broncos setback came by a one-goal margin.
    Wednesday marked the 101st time the Broncos hit the ice for a hockey game in 2017-18 including action in the regular season, WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament. The Broncos played a record 26 games in the WHL post-season to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros said fatigue was setting in for his club at Wednesday’s post-game press conference, but he loved the battle his player kept continuing to show.
Colby Sissons created late excitement for the Broncos on Wednesday.
    “Our mistakes were I thought throughout this tournament were tired mistakes,” said Viveiros. “Our group is tired.
    “I noticed that coming into this tournament especially going into the first game and especially in that second game. Our energy level was very, very low. Normally when you are tired, you are going to make mistakes.
    “I am so proud of that group. It is a real special group, and (they) work real hard.”
    Injuries were piling up too. The Broncos lost star right-winger Tyler Steenbergen due to a concussion in their first game at the Memorial Cup, which was a 4-3 overtime setback to the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan last Saturday. 
    Star captain Glenn Gawdin had been playing with a separated should since the third round of the WHL playoffs, and Russian import defenceman Artyom Minulin needs surgery to fix a shoulder injury that he has been playing with.
    While all those things were working against them, the Broncos heart showed on Wednesday, when they refused to go away trailing 5-2 in the third period. A comeback attempt was sparked, when star Finnish import left-winger Aleksi Heponiemi scored with 5:38 to play in the frame to cut the Pats lead to 5-3.
Captain Glenn Gawdin piled up points while playing hurt.
    After the Broncos pulled netminder Stuart Skinner for an extra attacker, overage star centre Giorgio Estephan lifted a shot over the shoulder of Pats netminder Max Paddock with 2:49 to play in the frame cutting the Pats lead to 5-4.
    Regina appeared to restore order, when Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek scored a power-play goal with 1:37 to play in the third giving the Pats a 6-4 edge.
    The Broncos still didn’t go away at that point. Gawdin collected the rebound from a point shot taken by offensive defenceman Colby Sissons and popped home a power-play goal with 49.5 seconds to play cutting the Pats edge to 6-5.
    Swift Current kept pushing right up to the final buzzer of the third. In the dying seconds of the frame, Pats centre Matthew Bradley poked the puck out to the centre ice zone, and the Regina side began celebrating victory including the players on the ice and the coaches and players on the bench.
Broncos fans were loud and proud cheering on their team.
    Sissons tracked the puck down and fired a Hail Mary shot towards the Pats net. The puck went past an oblivious Paddock and defenceman Josh Mahura into the goal with 0.1 seconds remaining on the clock. Four Broncos players were pinned deep in the Regina zone, so Sissons potential equalizer didn’t count as the play was ruled offside.
    It was physically impossible for those Broncos players to clear the zone to prevent any play from being offside in that situation.
    With that said, Sissons never say die effort symbolized the resolve of the Broncos for the entire 2017-18 campaign, and that resolve almost allowed them to continue playing.
    The team’s resolve was shared by the club’s fans, who traveled from Swift Current and area in droves for the squad’s three Memorial Cup games. A lot of the supporters were farmers who took a break from planting crops in the fields to go cheer on their hockey team. The Broncos fans were just happy to see their team competing in major junior hockey’s most prestigious tournament.
    The Broncos fans provided one of the warmest moments of the event on Monday, when they gave a rousing ovation to Skinner after he received a first star award for making 54 saves in a 2-1 loss to the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs.
Aleksi Heponiemi nearly sparked a rally on Wednesday.
    Swift Current’s story was so good that it would been nice to see it continue.
    Still, the Broncos gave Swift Current an area a season to remember. They finished second overall in the WHL with a 48-17-5-2.
    Steenbergen scored the gold medal game winning goal for Canada at the world juniors that wrapped up in January in Buffalo, New York. Of course, they had a memorable post-season run to capture the WHL title.
    The run included the “Miracle at the i-Plex,” where the Broncos overcame a 3-0 deficit to down the Everett Silvertips 4-3 in overtime in Game 2 of the WHL Championship series at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex. The Broncos won the league crown in Game 6 on home ice with a 3-0 win over the Silvertips.
    The heart of the 2017-18 Broncos will never be forgotten in Swift Current and area, and it will always be a warm memory in the city “where life makes sense.”

Media arrive at Memorial Cup in large numbers

Media members converge around Broncos goalie Stuart Skinner.
    In an era where the mainstream media has been cut to less than skeleton crew levels in Canada, it was a great to see a large media presence at the Memorial Cup.
    The media riser at the west end of the Brandt Centre has been full for all games at the Memorial Cup so far. The media scrums around players have been some of the largest I have seen in 19 seasons covering major junior hockey.
    Of course, all the media outlets from Regina are represented, and a number of media staffers have made appearances from smaller Saskatchewan centres.
    There has been some representation from media outside the province including a reporter from Prince George, B.C.
    For the younger members of the media, you can tell it is a big thing for them to be at the Memorial Cup. It was refreshing to see that as the number of people that cover the major junior hockey ranks in Canada on a beat writing basis has shrunk greatly over the last seven years.
    The more seasoned media members have enjoyed meeting the younger media members, but they seem to really enjoy renewing old links with other veteran media members they haven’t seen for a while.
    Face to face contact among media members covering sports doesn’t happen as often as it once did. With the way life changes, there is always uncertainty if you will cross paths with old friends from the media world in a media setting.
The media riser has been filled at the Memorial Cup.
    One of the best sights came after Wednesday’s round robin game, where the host Regina Pats downed the WHL champion Swift Current Broncos 6-5. 
    Due to the game starting at 8 p.m. local time, many were fighting deadlines and were trying to get work completed at an hour that wasn’t totally insane. For 8 p.m. starts, it is common for media members to finally leave the rink at 2 a.m.
    To help each other out, media members were sharing quotes and facts to help complete work faster.
    The influx of media members has to be viewed as a good thing for those that oversee the Memorial Cup. At a lot of national championship sporting events in Canada, you are often lucky to get a maximum of 10 members of the sports media out at your event. Often you might see less than five media members.
    About 20 years ago, one of the ways a sporting event was trumpeted as being a big thing was from the fact a large number of media members covered the event. That practice has long been abandoned, because of the dwindling numbers of sports media staffers in Canada.
    For those that manage the CHL, they can take comfort in the fact sports media member still want to go to the Memorial Cup, and it has a lustre. A lot of other national championship sports events in Canada can’t make the same claim.

Steel equaled record with five assist game

Regina Pats captain Sam Steel, right, had a record Wednesday night.
    Regina Pats captain Sam Steel joined some elite company on Wednesday night in the Memorial Cup record book.
    The star centre from Sherwood Park, Alta., collected five assists in the Pats 6-5 round robin victory over the WHL champion Swift Current Broncos before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators at the Brandt Centre. Steel equaled the record for most assists in one game at the Memorial Cup dating back to when it started to be played in a tournament format back in 1972.
    Two others also recorded five assists in one game at the Memorial Cup since it has been contented in tournament format. Back on May 14, 1985, centre Dan Hodgson had five assists for the Prince Albert Raiders, when they slipped past the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 8-6 in a round robin game. The Raiders won that tournament held in Shawinigan and Drummondville, Que.
    On May 26, 2013, centre Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads recorded five assists in a 6-4 victory over the Portland Winterhawks in the Memorial Cup championship game, when the event was staged in Saskatoon, Sask.

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