WHL Eastern Conference finals foes made major trade on Jan. 9
|Broncos RW Giorgio Estephan will see some old friend in Lethbridge.|
Giorgio Estephan isn’t sure what it will be like to face a team he used to lead about four months ago in a high stakes series.The Edmonton, Alta., product, who turned 21-years-old in early February, started the 2017-18 WHL campaign as the captain of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. He spent the first four-and-a-half seasons of his career in the major junior ranks with the Hurricanes before he was dealt to the Swift Current Broncos in a blockbuster trade on Jan. 9.
Now, Estephan’s Broncos will battle the Hurricanes in this year’s best-of-seven Eastern Conference championship series. Game 1 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current. A year ago, Estephan played a key part in helping the Hurricanes reach the Eastern Conference Championship series ultimately falling in six games to the Regina Pats.
“Anytime you’re going back to a place where you’ve played pretty much your whole career, it is definitely going to be interesting,” said Estephan, who had 30 goals and 56 assists in 69 regular season games split between the Broncos and Hurricanes in the 2017-18 campaign. “I have a billet dad there and he is pretty much my second dad.
“My girlfriend is from there. It will definitely be an interesting series. This is definitely one that I will get a little bit more for sure.”
Estephan won’t be the only player seeing familiar faces. In that blockbuster deal on Jan. 9 that came a day before the WHL’s trade deadline, the Hurricanes also sent star 19-year-old netminder Stuart Skinner and winger Tanner Nagel, who turned 20 in late January, to the Broncos.
|Broncos G Stuart Skinner used to be Hurricanes mainstay.|
Skinner, who posted a 30-21-4 record, a 3.07 goals against average, a .905 save percentage and six shutouts in 56 regular season appearances split between the Broncos and Hurricanes in 2017-18, spent the first three-and-a-half seasons of his WHL career in Lethbridge, and his links run deep in that community as well.
“I have tonnes of friends there, and I know a lot of fans,” said Skinner. “Obviously my billets, Shannon and Peter Stewart and their three kids, it is going to be fun playing in front of all of them.
“I might not say hi to them after the first game but maybe after the second game just so I can get my rest. It is going to be a lot of fun.”
Both teams were trying to accomplish different goals, when they made their trade on Jan. 9. The Broncos were having a stellar regular season ultimately finishing second overall in the league with a 48-17-5-2 record and were looking to further bolster their roster for a long playoff run.
The Hurricanes came off a stellar 2016-17 campaign and appeared to be going through a reloading phase and ultimately finished 16th overall in the league with a 33-33-6 record. They made the trade to acquire youth and some draft selections.
The Broncos first eliminated the Memorial Cup hosting Regina Pats, who finished seventh overall in the regular season, and then the Moose Jaw Warriors, who topped the league’s regular season standings, in respective seven game series to reach the Eastern Conference Championship series.
|Tanner Nagel (#25) was dealt to the Broncos by the Hurricanes.|
Since the trade between the Broncos and Hurricanes, the two teams met once in the regular season back on Feb. 2 in Lethbridge, and the Hurricanes rolled to a 5-2 victory. Swift Current claimed the three previous head-to-head encounters before the Jan. 9 deal.
“I visualized about this since the trade,” said Skinner. “They told me that they were going to meet in the Eastern Conference finals.
“I didn’t doubt it. They are a good hockey club. I know them really well.
“I am really excited to play against them, and I’m excited to see what we can do. I am sure it is going to be a lot of fun, and it is going to involve a lot of emotions. I’m super excited for it.”
Estephan also said his former teammates in Lethbridge told him the two sides would meet in the conference finals. He will not take anything away from the run his old club is on.
“We played them our last time in Lethbridge, and they spanked us,” said Estephan. “They are a good team.
“They are a fast team, a young team who has nothing to lose. They are playing like it, and they’ve steam rolled through two rounds.
“They are a good team that we definitely have to watch out for and can’t take for granted for sure.”
Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin said playing old teammates who are now with the Hurricanes should add some intrigue to the series.
“It is kind of crazy how things worked out,” said Gawdin. “Just the way it ended up, obviously we are playing them.
“It is going to be a good rival. Both teams are going to try to prove that we got the better end of it.”
|Glenn Gawdin believes the Hurricanes will be a tough foe for his Broncos.|
“When we made that deal with Lethbridge, it was for us to give an opportunity to get through our side, because our side was a real difficult side,” said Viveiros. “I am not surprised they got through too, because they are a good hockey team.
“We had to give up some really good hockey players to get good hockey players. It is going to be a little bit weird at first. When it is all said and done, the kids that we have now they are Swift Current Broncos now.
“The kids that we moved over to Lethbridge they are Lethbridge Hurricanes now. It is going to make for an interesting series.”
Hunter believes Warriors are moving forward
|The Warriors salute their fans at Mosaic Place on Monday.|
For the first time in team history, the Warriors finished first overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 52-15-2-3 record and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings. With the WHL’s East Division playing out as one of the toughest divisions the league had seen in some time, the Warriors faced a couple of big challenges in the playoffs.
The Warriors claimed a tough seven-game series in the first round against a physical and skilled Prince Albert Raiders side, who finished 14th overall in the league with a 32-27-9-4 record. Moose Jaw proceeded to bow out of the post-season in a tough and physical seven-game series against the Swift Current Broncos, who finished second overall in the WHL with a 48-17-5-2 mark.
Looking at the Warriors history, Hunter referenced the fact this season marked only the fourth time in history the club topped a division dating back to its origins in Winnipeg, Man., in the 1980-81 campaign. Since the start of the 2012-13 campaign, the Warriors have won two playoff series and missed the playoffs for three straight seasons from 2012-13 to 2014-15.
“(It was) a great regular season for us,” said Hunter. “We put two banners in the rafters here that are few and far between in this organization over the years.
“It is a great stepping stone. You don’t become a great organization overnight. I think we are heading in the right direction for this organization to be better in the future.
|Tanner Jeannot was one of the Warriors star overage players.|
The Warriors dropped Game 7 of their series to the Broncos 6-0 on Monday night before 4,765 spectators at the 4,414 seat Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw. Hunter said a number of players on his team finished out playing with a lot of injuries which contributed to the lopsided outcome in their final game.
“It is human nature to be frustrated when you don’t win and you are not in the game from the get go,” said Hunter. “I am sure the players are just as frustrated.
“It is just one of those nights that didn’t go right. To win in the playoffs, everything has to go right, and it didn’t for our team. We played 14 really hard games, and we were really banged up.
“It is tough to play and have confidence when you are not 100 per cent, and we weren’t.”
Monday’s loss marked the final outing for star overage forwards in Jayden Halbgewachs, Tanner Jeannot and Brayden Burke.
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