Saturday, 21 April 2018

Estephan vaults into Broncos’ penthouse with OT winner

Star centre hopes to avoid one specific doghouse in Lethbridge

The Broncos celebrate Giorgio Estephan’s overtime winner.
    SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. – Giorgio Estephan has his figures crossed that he avoids his girlfriend’s doghouse when he returns to Lethbridge.
    On Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 2,890 spectators at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex, Estephan capped a hat trick performance scoring the winning goal for the Swift Current Broncos at the 9:41 mark of overtime in Game 2 of the WHL Eastern Conference championship series.
    The overage star centre tapped home a midrange shot in the extra session from defenceman Sahvan Khaira to give the Broncos a 4-3 victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
    With the win, the Broncos took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 3 is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time at the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge.
Giorgio Estephan had a hat trick for the Broncos on Saturday.
    Estephan spent the first four-and-a-half seasons of his WHL career with the Hurricanes, and he came to the Broncos as part of a blockbuster trade on Jan. 9. His girlfriend is from Lethbridge, and the personable Estephan hopes he doesn’t get into trouble for his performance.
    “I hope she is happy,” said Estephan with a chuckle. “She is from Lethbridge, but I mean, she cheers for both teams.
    “She knows a lot of guys on the team too, so she is a good sport for sure.”
    The Edmonton, Alta., product’s overtime marker concluded a classic back-and-forth playoff encounter. The Broncos took a 2-0 lead by the end of the first period, but the Hurricanes rallied to go ahead 3-2 by the end of the second frame.
    Broncos star Finnish import left-winger Aleksi Heponiemi wired home a shot from the slot on the power play to force a 3-3 tie at the 9:23 mark of the third period.
    Early in overtime, Hurricanes defenceman Calen Addison wired a shot off the post the Swift Current goal.
    That set the stage for Estephan to net his winner.
An ice crew member cleans up Giorgio Estephan’s hat trick hats.
    “It was a hard fought game,” said Estephan. “There was definitely times throughout the game where everybody gets frustrated.
    “I think we stuck with our game plan. We stuck with things that were making us good. You could see at times how good we were rolling.
    “It felt pretty good at the end for sure.”
    The Broncos jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the first period, when Estephan netted his first two goals of the night 55 second apart from each other. He scored the first tally on the power play receiving a pass from Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin across the face of the Lethbridge goal firing the puck into an empty cage.
    On the second goal, Estephan worked a perfect give-and-go with linemate Max Patterson on a rush into the Lethbridge zone to net the second tally.
    The Hurricane stormed back in the second. The visitors picked up their first goal off a positive bounce play, when Hurricanes captain Jordy Bellerive deflected home a shot off Broncos right-winger Tanner Nagel into the Swift Current net.
The Broncos fans cheer one of their team’s goals on Saturday.
    With 4:09 remaining in the second, standout sophomore right-winger Dylan Cozens was chopped down on a break towards the Swift Current net by Broncos star defenceman Colby Sissons and was awarded a penalty shot. On the penalty shot, Cozens roofed a shot to the top left corner of the Swift Current goal to force a 2-2 tie.
    The Hurricanes pulled ahead 3-2 with 1:17 to play in the second, when 18-year-old centre Jadon Joseph popped home a loose puck during a net scramble.
    That set the stage for Heponiemi to tie things up for the Broncos in the third and for Estephan to win it in overtime.
Dylan Cozens scored on a penalty shot for the Hurricanes.
    “We were playing a good game,” said Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio. “Obviously, (we had) a slow start, but I thought the second and third period we played really well.
    “OT, we have a lot of chances. It is obviously tough, but there was some questionable calls out there especially at the end. They (the officials) just decided to put the whistles away.”
    Stuart Skinner turned away 36 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Broncos. Logan Flodell stopped 29 shots to take the setback in goal for the Hurricanes.
    Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros was pleased to see Estephan come through with a big outing.
    “He stepped up, and that is why we brought him in with our club like that,” said Viveiros. “He does a lot of stuff for us. He is a great kid in the room and off the ice.
    “On faceoffs, he makes a big difference. He is a real smart player. He knows where to be in certain times, and I am very happy for him.”
Aleksi Heponiemi (#20) celebrates scoring his third period goal.
    The first two games of the series have hurt the Broncos in the injury department. In their 3-2 victory in Game 1 on Friday, Broncos Russian import defenceman Artyom Minulin left with an injury and didn’t dress for Game 2.
    In the first period of Game 2, Gawdin skated gingerly to the bench after being on the receiving end of a hard hit into the boards from a Hurricanes player and didn’t return to the game. Viveiros didn’t rule out either returning for Game 3.
    The bench boss was pleased his club could find a way to be resilient once again.
    “We were fortunate again to get a win tonight, but that is playoff hockey so I’m certainly not going to apologize for that by any means here,” said Viveiros, who Broncos finished second overall in the WHL in the regular season with a 48-17-5-2 record. “I thought we played well in spurts again this evening.
    “At times, myself, I made some mistakes, and they capitalized on it right away. Our guys worked hard. We’re up with a 2-0 lead, and they come back and get three quick goals on us.
Calen Addison almost scored the OT winner for the Hurricanes.
    “I thought our kids responded after the second period. We got back to playing the way we felt we need to play if we are going to have a chance to win this series here. You get into overtime and anybody can win, and we’re just fortunate enough to get that one extra chance.”
    So far in the post-season, the Hurricanes have won all six contests they have hosted at the Enmax Centre. Kisio likes his team’s chances of getting a win in Game 3.
    “Our group doesn’t lack confidence,” said Kisio, who Hurricanes finished 16th overall in the WHL with a 33-33-6 mark. “We will be fine.
    “We’re going to get back into this series. We’ll go home, and we will get it done.”
The Broncos scramble to get the puck out of the defensive zone.
    Having played at the Enmax Centre for the Hurricanes, Estephan admitted his Broncos are going to be in for a challenge when they take the ice in Lethbridge for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Wednesday.
    “I’ve been there and seen what the crowd is capable of,” said Estephan. “They are going to come out buzzing.
    “We have to be able to handle their pressure especially early on in the game and push back as best we can. We all know they are going to come at us. Why wouldn’t they?
The Broncos celebrate their Game 2 victory over the Hurricanes.
  “They’ve been coming at us all series so far. We just have to be prepared to manager their attack.”

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Friday, 20 April 2018

Heponiemi delivers WHL Eastern Conference championship series opener to host Broncos

Finnish product’s first playoff goal downs Hurricanes 3-2

The Broncos celebrate Aleksi Heponiemi’s game-winning goal.
    SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. - Aleksi Heponiemi will never be mistaken for an “all about me guy.”
    On Friday night at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex, the left-winger from Tampere, Finland, scored his first career WHL playoff goal, and it delivered his Swift Current Broncos to a 3-2 victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes in Game 1 of the WHL Eastern Conference championship series. Game 2 of the best-of-seven set goes Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex.
    During Friday’s encounter, the Broncos and Hurricanes were locked in a 2-2 tie, when Heponiemi blasted home the winning goal from the right slot with 8:49 to play in the third period to the delight of most of the sellout crowd of 2,980 spectators.
Aleksi Heponiemi had a goal and an assist on Friday.
    The star sophomore import forward now has one goal and 27 assists in 29 career WHL playoff games.
    After the contest, you wouldn’t have known Heponiemi scored his first career WHL playoff goal or that his tally was a game winner with the way he talked about it during the post-game media scrum.
    “Obviously, it feels good,” said Heponiemi. “It always good to get it at some point.
    “Obviously, I am going to shoot the puck a bit more. It is going to come, if it comes.
    “It doesn’t matter who scores the goal in playoffs. It is a team sport, and that is what it is all about is winning.”
    Heponiemi seemed more concerned about the fact his squad was outplayed by the Hurricanes over lengthy stretches of the contest. Lethbridge held a 41-30 edge in shots on goal, and the Broncos pulled out victory thanks to a 39 save performance from 19-year-old star netminder Stuart Skinner.
    “Obviously, the first game was huge to win,” said Heponiemi. “The way we won today wasn’t our best game. We have to be way better.”
Captain Jordy Bellerive (#15) drives to the goal for the Hurricanes.
    The Broncos thought they scored 65 seconds into Friday’s game, but the officials immediately called off the tally ruling one of the Swift Current players made incidental contact with Hurricanes overage netminder Logan Flodell.
    The Hurricanes controlled the majority of the play in the opening frame outshooting the Broncos 18-10. Skinner had to make a number of key stops including turning away Hurricanes left-winger Egor Zudilov on a turnaround shot near the end of the stanza.
    The Broncos capitalized on a break at the 6:15 mark of the second period to go ahead 1-0. Flodell accidentally slipped to the ice in his goal, and Broncos left-winger Cole Gable centred the puck to linemate Max Patterson, who lifted the game’s first tally over the fallen goalie.
Stuart Skinner makes one of his 39 saves in goal for the Broncos.
    The hosts increased their advantage to 2-0 at the 13:05 mark of the second on the power play, when Heponiemi fed a pass across the front of the Lethbridge net to linemate Giorgio Estephan, who popped home his fifth marker of the post season.
    The Hurricanes thought they scored with 8.3 seconds to play in the second, but the officials immediately ruled off that tally saying the puck was knocked to the ice by a Lethbridge player with a high stick.
    “Obviously the second period, I thought we didn’t play the way we needed to play,” said Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio. “I thought our first and third period were much more of our team game. We fought back into the game.”
    Early in the third period, the Hurricanes capitalized on a break that went their way.
Calen Addison scored the equalizer for the Hurricanes in the third period.
    On a rush into the Swift Current zone, Hurricanes left-winger Taylor Ross had the puck poked off his stick by Broncos defenceman Noah King. The puck landed on the stick of Hurricanes defenceman Matthew Stanley, who quickly blasted home his second of the post-season to cut the Broncos edge to 2-1.
    With 10:04 to play in the third, Hurricanes sophomore rearguard Calen Addison, who turned 18 earlier this month, fired home a power-play goal from the point to force a 2-2 tie.
    After Heponiemi put the Broncos up 3-2, the Hurricanes didn’t go away. Working down low in the Swift Current zone, Hurricanes captain Jordy Bellerive had a beauty chance to score in close, but he slid the puck wide of the Broncos net.
The fans at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex cheer a Broncos goal.
    Hurricanes overage left-winger Brad Morrison, who leads the WHL in post-season scoring, was stoned in close by Skinner a short time later.
    Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros said Friday’s game could have easily had a different outcome.
    “We didn’t expect the game to be over after the second period,” said Viveiros. “We’ve been pretty resilient this year, when we have given up leads or been behind to get back in games.
    “I thought Lethbridge was really good tonight. They put us on our heels. They made us make mistakes.
    “We were fortunate tonight. Stuart Skinner played very well for us. A little bit more puck luck for Lethbridge, and I think they could have easily won the game tonight.”
The Broncos and Hurricanes did engage in some scrums.
    Flodell turned away 27 shots putting on a solid performance in goal for the Hurricanes. He arguably made the save of the night shortly after the third period started. The Regina product had slipped to the ice in his net but reached up to make a glove save on a point drive from Broncos standout defenceman Colby Sissons. That stop prevented the hosts from expanding the 2-0 lead they had at the time.
    The Broncos came into this series as favourites finishing second overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 48-17-5-2 record, while the Hurricanes were 16th overall with a 33-33-6 mark.
Stuart Skinner, left, and Colby Sissons celebrate the Broncos victory.
    The Hurricanes are a younger team that is in a reloading campaign, but they showed they are ready to play with the Broncos. Bellerive said his side wasn’t disheartened with Friday’s outcome.
    “We knew it was going to be a tough game obviously in their barn the first night,” said Bellerive, who had assists on both Hurricanes goals. “I think we have a lot of positives to look at. I think it puts us in a good spot moving forward.
    “We’re pretty positive. Obviously, we’re disappointed with the loss. We played a great game and a lot of positives to look on to moving forward.”

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Could third time be a charm for Stars at Esso Cup?

Jordyn Holmes, left, and Mackenna Parker hope to enjoy an Esso Cup title.
    Captain Mackenna Parker believes this might the best chance her Saskatoon Stars have of winning the Esso Cup.
    The Stars are making their third appearance in the last four years at the national female midget AAA hockey championship tournament. The Stars open play at this year’s six-team tourney at the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre in Bridgewater, N.S., in the event’s first game on Sunday against the Brampton Canadettes from Ontario.
    Saskatoon has a lifetime 8-6 record at the Esso Cup winning a bronze medal in 2015 and falling in the bronze medal game in 2016. Parker, who is in her 17-year-old and final season of midget eligibility, was with the Stars in their previous two visits to nationals and is pumped to return for a third time.
    “I’m so excited,” said Parker, who topped the Stars in scoring with 33 goals and 27 assists in 23 regular season games. “This time I think that we can actually win or if we are doing our best, we actually have a shot at the gold medal.
    “I wanted it last year too. It is more exciting this year.”
    The Stars have an advantage in the experience. Along with Parker, forwards Jordyn Holmes and Kianna Dietz played in the 2015 Esso Cup along with centre Grace Shirley, who was an associate player call up.
Mackenna Parker will go down as one of the Stars all-time greats.
    Winger Jordyn Gerlitz also suited up for the Stars that season at nationals, but she will be unavailable this year due to breaking her collarbone in the Stars 6-2 win in Game 2 of their Western regional playdown series on April 7 against the Eastman Selects in Steinbach, Man.
    Parker, Holmes, Dietz, Gerlitz and Shirley were all part of the Stars team that appeared in the 2016 Esso Cup along with standout forwards Anna Leschyshyn and Joelle Fiala, defensive defender Dana Wood and standout netminder Jordan Ivanco. Parker, Holmes, Dietz, Gerlitz, Wood and Ivanco are all playing out their final midget AAA campaigns.
    On top of that experience, Parker and Shirley were members of Canada’s team that won a bronze medal at the under-18 women’s worlds in Dmitrov, Russia, in January.
    Holmes believes her squad’s experience factor will be a calming influence at Esso Cup.
    “It is going to help a lot, especially with the young ones,” said the gritty defensive forward. “We’ll be able to like show them along and teach them what to do.
    “If they are nervous, we can like help them like try to calm it and know what to do with it.”
    Parker believes the fact that her team has a large group of players that have played together for an extended period of years will be a benefit at Esso Cup as well.
    “I think it will help a lot, because we all know each other and we all like have such good chemistry,” said Parker. “There is so many of us graduating this year that we all want it so bad too.
Jordyn Holmes (#44) has been a standout defensive forward for the Stars.
    “We want to go out with that win and doing the best that we can. Especially being able to do it with them the past four years, I think that will be great.”
    For the 10 members of the Stars who will make their first appearance at the Esso Cup, Holmes said the biggest advice she will pass on is to look after yourself physically. If the Stars make the playoff round, they will ultimately play seven games over seven days.
    “With all the hockey, I would say keep your fluids up and make sure you are stretched out and your body is feeling good every day,” said Holmes. “After cooldown at the rink, do it then, but then also back at the hotel.
    “I suggest like that is what I would think would be better for us.”
    Head coach Greg Slobodzian has guided the Stars to their two previous appearances at the Esso Cup. He noted his team has a calm going into this year’s tournament that didn’t necessarily exist in the previous two visits.
    “It is exciting every time you get to go to anything that is hosted by Hockey Canada,” said Slobodzian. “They do such a good job.
    “The first time obviously you go in wide eyed not knowing what to expect excited and giddy. The second time I think we’re like, “Yeah, you know we can do this.” This time, sure there are a few girls that haven’t been to it, but the whole attitude is like, “Yeah, let’s just go there and do it and take care of business.”
Defensive defender Dana Wood is closing out her career with the Stars.
    “It is a little bit different. We’re not going to be as not necessarily awestruck.”
    While the Stars will only be able to use 16 skaters each game due to the injury to Gerlitz, Slobodzian his players can handle the big volume of games.
    “I’m not really worried about our conditioning,” said Slobodzian, whose team is 8-0 in the post-season and 38-6-1 overall this season. “The girls are in really great shape right now. The layoffs that we’ve had in between series have really helped that.
    “It is not as if we are worn out by no means. It is still a lot of hockey, and we have to make sure that you manage the girls’ minutes properly.”
    Of course with a national tournament like the Esso Cup, the Stars will see teams they haven’t played in the current campaign like the Canadettes. Holmes said the big key will be to adjust on the fly.
    “It is going to be difficult not being able to watch on film and know exactly what they are doing,” said Holmes. “We’ll just have to play our game and adapt.”
    The Esso Cup field is rounded out by the defending champion St. Albert Slash from Alberta, the Pionnieres de Lanaudiere from Terrebonne, Quebec, the Northern Subway Selects from New Glasgow, N.S., and tournament hosts Metro Boston Pizza.
The Stars hope to keep the victory celebrations going at Esso Cup.
    The six teams will play each other in a round robin with the top four clubs advancing to the tournament’s two semifinal games, which will be held on Friday, April 27. The bronze and gold medal games will be held on Saturday, April 28.
    Both Parker and Holmes would love to close out their midget AAA careers with a win in the Esso Cup’s championship game.
    “It would mean so much to me,” said Parker.  “I’ve wanted it for the past four years since I’ve played with Stars.
    “I just want to be able to celebrate and throw my hands into the air and like say that I won the Esso Cup with my team. That would be amazing. I hope we can do it.”
    “It would be indescribable what it would feel like to be able to go out with a win my last year,” said Holmes. “It would just be amazing. I just hope so bad.”

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Thursday, 19 April 2018

Broncos to experience déjà vu with Hurricanes

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.
    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.
    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.
    The Hurricanes first took out the Red Deer Rebels, who finished 17th overall in the WHL, and then the Brandon Wheat Kings, who finished eighth overall, in respective five game series to return to the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight year.
Tanner Nagel (#25) was dealt to the Broncos by the Hurricanes.
    In the WHL playoffs, the teams are bracketed to play through their division in a modified format that contains two wildcard entries.
    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.
    Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros thinks it is neat the way the playoffs have unfolded with his club meeting the Hurricanes for a conference title. He believes the series will be a good one.
    “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.
    In stepping back to look at the big picture, head coach Tim Hunter was pleased with how the 2017-18 campaign played out for his Moose Jaw Warriors.
    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.
    “There are lots of prospects here, and there are lots of good young players who will be back next year. This organization will have a good team at the end of next year.”
    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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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Outpouring of support for Humboldt Broncos shows humanity at its best

A fan in Swift Current puts up a sign to support the Humboldt Broncos.
    The capacity for humanity to care might have hit new heights in the tragedy involving the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
    On April 6, the bus carrying the Broncos to play a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game in Nipawin was involved in a collision with a semi-truck just north of Tisdale. The unthinkable event resulted in the deaths of 10 Broncos players including captain Logan Schatz, Adam Herold, Conner Lukan, Evan Thomas, Jacob Leicht, Jaxon Joseph, Logan Boulet, Logan Hunter, Stephen Wack or Parker Tobin.
    Head coach and general manager Darcy Haugen, assistant coach Mark Cross, play-by-play voice Tyler Bieber, stats expert Brody Hinz, athletic therapist Dayna Brons and bus driver Glen Doerksen were all among the total of 16 people who were killed.
    The 13 survivors from the bus all sustained injuries, and as of the last update from the Saskatchewan Health Authority on Tuesday, nine are still in hospital including two in critical condition.
The Humboldt Broncos logo set for the vigil held on April 8.
    In the 12 days that have followed since the accident, the outpouring of support and love shown for the storied junior A franchise and the community of Humboldt has been unprecedented in an outstanding way.
    The depth of this tragedy is hard to comprehend and the sorrow the family and friends have to go through is unimaginable. On the other end of the roller-coaster, the way the province of Saskatchewan, Canada as a country and people I dare say from around the world have united to support all those effected has shown a warmth people can have for each other on a scale that likely has never been seen.
    A GoFundMe campaign started by Humboldt residents Sylvie Kellington and Caitlin Hergott in the immediate aftermath of the accident had originally the small goal of raising funds to cover parking costs for the families visiting hospitals. The campaign is slated to wrap up today at 11:59 p.m. Saskatchewan time has surpassed $15.1-million with donations coming from over 141,900 individuals and entities.
A display supporting the Humboldt Broncos in a Saskatchewan farm yard.
    It is by far the largest GoFundMe campaign in the history of Canada and ranks among the top three GoFundMe campaigns ever in the history of the world. The donated funds will be transferred to a newly created non-profit known as Humboldt Broncos Memorial Fund Inc. An advisory committee is being established to make recommendations for the allocation of those funds.
    Fundraisers and donations outside of the GoFundMe campaign will go to the newly established Humboldt Strong Community Foundation. Its mission will be to support the Humboldt players, employees, families and volunteers as well as first responders, emergency personnel, teams, athletes, organizations and communities affected by the accident and its aftermath.
    On April 27 at 7 p.m., a fundraising concert will be held at SaskTel Centre featuring high profile country music singers Dallas Smith, Jess Moskaluke, Brett Kissel, Gord Bamford, Chad Brownlee and the Hunter Brothers. Tickets for the concert are $65. The show is being run by the Country Thunder Music Festival, which runs the annual music festival in Craven, Sask.
#SticksOutForHumboldt at Swift Current Broncos bus crash memorial.
    The Broncos bus accident resonates with people due to its unfairness including the fact the players ranged in age from 16 to 21 and were at the beginning of making their biggest impacts in life. They were in transit to go play a game.
    In Canada, the majority of people have traveled by bus to go play in a sporting event or are connected to someone who does travel to participate a sporting event by bus.
    If you travel the highways in Saskatchewan at the moment, you will inevitably find a sign offering support for the Humboldt Broncos. It seems like we have all left our #StickOutForHumboldt at some time over the past 12 days. That was a moment that gained its traction from Humboldt product and current play-by-play voice of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets Brian Munz posting that exact gesture on social media.
    The SJHL resumed its playoffs with the Hawks taking on the Estevan Bruins in the best-of-seven league championship series to capture the Canalta Cup. The Hawks lead the series 2-1, and the first three contests have allowed people to continue to pour out their hearts for the Broncos and relish in celebrating the game.
A  store front window in downtown Swift Current.
    Out in Swift Current, the Humboldt Broncos bus accident takes on a whole other unique meaning. The Swift Current Broncos suffered through a single-vehicle team bus crash on December 30, 1986 resulting the deaths of players Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff. 
    The Swift Current bus flew off the highway having hit a patch of black ice shortly after leaving town on route to a road game in Regina to play the Pats.
    Since that time, Swift Current, a small city of just over 16,600 people, has come a long way and still continues on an uncharted path on a lifetime of healing. A lot of the characteristics of Swift Current are similar to Humboldt, which has a population of about 6,000, in that both places are close knit farming communities with big loyalties to their junior hockey teams.
A sign at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current.
    In another connection, the Humboldt Broncos were born in 1970 as the junior A affiliate of the Swift Current Broncos. From that link, the Humboldt franchise gained its name and the green and gold colour scheme that used to also be worn by the Swift Current franchise.
    Last weekend, the sticks were out for Humboldt at the Swift Current Broncos bus crash memorial.
    Inside of Swift Current and the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex during playoff games for the WHL’s Broncos, you didn’t have to look far to see a sign of support for Humboldt and the commonalities the two Broncos teams share.
    In Moose Jaw, a local company that prints T-shirts has been going overtime producing T-shirts to support the Humboldt Broncos and raising fund to help those involved with the Humboldt bus accident.
    It is easy to encounter a sign advertising Thursday’s benefit game in Moose Jaw to support the Humboldt Broncos set for 7:30 p.m. at Mosaic Place. The game is being played in the memory of deceased Humboldt player Evan Thomas, whose father Scott played for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors from 1987 to 1991.
A sign for Humboldt Broncos benefit game in Moose Jaw on Thursday.
    Evan played midget AAA hockey from 2015 to 2017 for the Moose Jaw Generals.
    Gregg Drinnan, who is “the Dean” of sportswriters that covers the WHL, penned a beautiful tribute piece talking about the Humboldt Broncos playing a hockey game in the afterlife.
    Saskatoon Blades play-by-play voice Les Lazaruk has express interest in calling a Humboldt Broncos game for free next season, and his idea is gaining support from a tonne of other broadcasters.
    Longer form positive and reflective style articles have been written by Sports Illustrated and Maclean’s.
    The ways to honour, raise funds and rally around the Humboldt Broncos keeps going and going. It is great to see, because the challenges everyone will face going forward will only be met and overcome over the longer term.
    In recent days, a number of funerals were held for those that died in the Humboldt bus accident providing another chance for people to rally together to support each other.
A Humboldt Broncos memorial at city hall in Saskatoon.
    For the survivors, a new normal will really set in, when the cameras and the attention does subside. That will be the time when they will need continued support to be enabled to show the uplifting spirit displayed by defenceman Ryan Straschnitzki, who was paralyzed from the waist down and vows to play for Canada’s Men’s Paralympic Sledge Hockey team.
    During a dark time, words can’t describe how uplifting it has been to see everyone rally around the Humboldt Broncos. The hashtag phrases #BroncosStrong and #HumboldtStrong are now ingrained in our vocabulary.
This sign in Moose Jaw says it all. 
    At tragic moments like these, humanity shows in new and good ways how special it can be.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to Drinnan’s “The boys grab some sticks and win a game” article can be found right here.
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Monday, 16 April 2018

Broncos romp past Warriors 6-0 in Game 7

Swift Current advances to WHL Eastern Conference title series

The Broncos celebrate captain Glenn Gawdin’s second goal on Monday.
    MOOSE JAW, Sask. – The heart and soul members of the Swift Current Broncos bucked the Moose Jaw Warriors into the off-season.
    The Broncos big line of captain Glenn Gawdin, Tyler Steenbergen and Aleksi Heponiemi along with veteran defenceman Colby Sissons combined for four goals and seven assists to help their side dump the Warriors 6-0 in Game 7 of a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series before 4,765 spectators at Mosaic Place. 
    The victory on Monday night allowed the Broncos to take the best-of-seven series between the two powerhouse clubs 4-3.
    Moose Jaw finished first overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 52-15-2-3 record, while Swift Current was second overall with a 48-17-5-2 mark. Both clubs enter this series having won their respective first round series in seven games.
Warriors D Josh Brook (#2) check Broncos LW Aleksi Heponiemi (#20).
    The Broncos had a chance to win the series with Moose Jaw in Swift Current in Game 6 on Saturday night, but they saw a 2-0 third period lead evaporate into a 3-2 setback in triple overtime to create the need for a series-deciding Game 7.
    Swift Current advances to the WHL Eastern Conference championship series for the first time since 2001, and Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros was pleased with what his team was able to accomplish.
    “We’re ecstatic, (and) we feel like we are fortunate also too,” said Viveiros. “I am very proud of our kids.
    “Game 6, I thought we played really well, and obviously, we played a real good game tonight too. I have to give credit to Moose Jaw to come back and win Game 6. Tonight is one of those things that we scored at the right time.
Colby Sissons scored the Broncos first goal.
    “We had the momentum, and we continued with the momentum. We scored at opportune times.”
    Backed by a rink packed mainly with their home fans, the Warriors had chances early to take the lead. Overage right-winger Brayden Burke was denied on a shot from in front of the Broncos goal and Moose Jaw rearguard Josh Brook was turned away on a close in chance.
    Following those opportunities by the Warriors, the Broncos took a 1-0 lead, when Sissons slipped home a point shot through a screen at the 12:45 mark of the opening frame. With 35.4 seconds to play in the first, Heponiemi fed a perfect pass to Gawdin in front of the Moose Jaw goal, and he wired home a shot to give the visitors a 2-0 edge.
    Early in the second, the Broncos ensured the final outcome wouldn’t be in doubt. Just 3:22 into the frame, Steenbergen entered the Moose Jaw zone on a rush down the right wing and wired a wrist shot past Warriors goaltender Brody Willms to give the visitors a 3-0 edge.
    Just 78 seconds later, Sissons sprung Gawdin on a breakaway into the Warriors zone with a pass through centre ice, and the overage centre tucked home his second goal of the contest on a backhand shot to give Swift Current a 4-0 lead.
Brayden Burke had an early chance to score for the Warriors.
    At that point, the Warriors faithful was silent, and the cheers from a sizable contingent of Broncos supporters could be heard through the building.
    “They might have been louder than the Moose Jaw fans at times,” said Gawdin, who had two assists to go with his two goals. “That is just what our fans are all about.
    “At home, it has been nuts. They are our backbone throughout the whole year.”
    In the third, Heponiemi and Gawdin set up overage winger Giorgio Estephan for a power play goal, and Max Patterson added an even-strength marker a short time later to round out the scoring in the contest.
    “We played a great game,” said Estephan. “Overall, I think it kind of proves to our team that even though adversity and losing a big game like we did in Game 6 to come back and put up a game like we did today is pretty good.”
    Stuart Skinner turned away 25 shots to pick up the shutout win in goal for the Broncos. Swift Current won three out of the four games of the series played in Moose Jaw and Skinner had shutouts in each of those wins.
Tyler Steenbergen had a goal for the Broncos on Monday.
    “It seems like we play really well in the Moose Jaw rink,” said Skinner. “Three wins playing away is huge. That is reason why we won this series.
    “I’m so thankful that I have this group of guys. We’re a family out there. I love it.”
    Willms turned away 32 shots to take the loss in goal for the Warriors. Veteran Warriors defenceman Brandon Schuldhaus, who will enter his overage year next season, was kicked out of the game after the Broncos scored their sixth goal having received a match penalty for attempting to injure after slashing Broncos centre Andrew Fyten in the head. 
    The slash occurred when Fyten drove to the Moose Jaw net and fired a shot on goal, and his rebounded was potted home by Patterson.
    The WHL office will review the penalty involving Schuldhaus for a possible suspension to start off the 2018-19 regular season.
A group of Broncos fans cheer on their team.
    Having downed the Prince Albert Raiders is a physical seven-game series in the first round, the Warriors had another physical battle on their hands against the Broncos. Moose Jaw head coach Tim Hunter said the injuries started to pile up for his squad.
    “It takes everything to fall into place,” said Hunter. “Everything has to go right to win in the playoffs, and it didn’t for us.
    “We had a lot of guys injured. A lot of guys played injured. We weren’t 100 per cent, and that was the tough part of it.”
    Viveiros marvel at the work of his club’s top forward line of Gawdin, Steenbergen and Heponiemi.
Giorgio Estephan had a third period goal for the Broncos.
    “They have been doing it all year for us,” said Viveiros. “We called them in that one line today before the game.
    “I said listen you guys have been doing it all year for us, and you have to lead the way for us not just offensively but defensively and all areas of the ice. I said you will play a lot.
    “They welcomed that challenge, and that is why they are a pretty dynamic group not just from their offensive side of it. As far as their leadership and their will to win, those kids really want to win. It rubs off on everybody.”
    The Broncos will face the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Championship series, and Game 1 set for Friday at 7 p.m. at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current.
The Broncos celebrate their Game 7 series win.
    The Hurricanes, who were 33-33-6 in the regular season, are appearing in the Eastern Conference Championship series for the second straight year having bowed out in six games to the Regina Pats last year.
    Lethbridge eliminated the Red Deer Rebels in five games in the first round and took out the Brandon Wheat Kings in five games in the other Eastern Conference semifinal series. Viveiros believes his team is in for another tough set of games.
    “They’re going to say we are the favourites because of the regular season,” said Viveiros. “It is what it is, and we are OK with that. We can live with that.
The Broncos and Warriors shake hands after Monday’s game.
    “They are a good hockey team. You don’t win two series in playoffs with luck. They are well-coached and a great organization. (Hurricanes general manager) Peter Anholt is a real good friend of mine. I know those guys are going to be ready to go here.
    “Every series has its own individual story. We’ll see how that plays out starting on Friday night.”

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Saturday, 14 April 2018

Warriors will a way to Game 7 with out of nowhere comeback

Halbgewachs nets winner in triple overtime

The Warriors celebrate Jayden Halbgewachs triple OT winner.
    SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. - You could have almost stuck of a fork in the Moose Jaw Warriors, because it looked like they were done.
    Trailing a best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series 3-2 to the Swift Current Broncos, the Warriors showed little life through the first 46 minutes of Game 6 at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current on Saturday night.
    The host Broncos led 1-0 entering the third period and held a 28-9 edge in shots on goal in the opening 40 minutes. 
    At the 3:35 mark of the third period, Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin fed a backhand pass from the right corner boards in the offensive zone to star right-winger Tyler Steenbergen in front of the Moose Jaw goal. Steenbergen blew home his ninth goal of the post-season to give the Broncos a 2-0 lead.
Jayden Halbgewachs sets to fire home his overtime winner.
    It appeared the Broncos were on their way to the WHL Eastern Conference championship series for the first time since 2001.
    Out of nowhere, the complexion of the contest changed. At the 6:43 mark of the third period, 17-year-old Warriors defenceman Jett Woo fired home a point shot to cut Swift Current’s edge to 2-1. From that moment onwards, the Warriors, who last made the WHL Eastern Conference championship series in 2012, played a tonne more jump in their stride.
    With 8:42 to play in the third period, Warriors captain Brett Howden tipped home a point shot from star defenceman Kale Clague to tie things up at 2-2. At first, the officials didn’t signal goal, because the back end of the Broncos net was flipped into the air, when Howden deflected Clague’s shot down into the Swift Current cage.
    The officials checked out the video replay and concluded Howden did score as the net never did come off its pegs. That tally ultimately sent the contest to overtime.
Matteo Gennaro scored the first goal in Saturday night’s game.
    The contest remained tied until early in the third overtime period, when the Warriors caught a break after Broncos Russian import defenceman Artyom Minulin was called for hooking.
    On the ensuing power play, Warriors star winger Jayden Halbgewachs wired home the winner from the left side boards at the 1:14 mark to give the Warriors a 3-2 victory. The result sent the majority of the sellout crowd of 2,890 home disappointed outside of the healthy contingent of fans that came from Moose Jaw to support the Warriors.
    Halbgewachs’ goal allowed the Warriors to even the series up at 3-3 and force a series deciding Game 7 to be held Monday at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw. The winner of that contest will face the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference Championship series.
Warriors goalie Brody Willms makes one of 58 saves.
    On Saturday night, The Broncos came out and peppered Warriors netminder Brody Willms with 12 shots in the opening 20 minutes. The 19-year-old was the key reason the Warriors were able to escape the frame locked in a 0-0 tie.
    Actually, the Warriors almost exited the first with the lead. Broncos netminder Stuart Skinner only faced four shots in the first, but with the Warriors working on the power play late in the frame, he turned away Halbgewachs on a backdoor chance.
    The hosts continued their onslaught of shots in the second, and the Broncos finally took a 1-0 lead with 6:17 to play in the frame.
Tyler Steenbergen put the Broncos up 2-0 early in the third.
    Working on a power play, overage centre Matteo Gennaro tipped home a point shot from Minulin to give the Broncos the edge.
    After Steenbergen scored early in the third to give the Broncos a 2-0 lead, the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex was jumping. All that did was set the stage for what seemed like an improbably Warriors comeback.
    The Broncos had a power play in the first overtime period, but were unable to net the goal that would have won the series.
    Willms made 58 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Warriors. Skinner turned away 35 shots to take the setback in goal for the Broncos.
    In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s clash, the Broncos will see the overtime loss as one of those games that got away. The Warriors can say the same thing about Game 4 of the series last Wednesday in Swift Current, where the Broncos pulled out a 3-2 victory in double overtime.
Jett Woo’s goal sparked a rally by the Warriors.
    In all reality, the fact that this series is going to a Game 7 likely does justice to the work both sides have put in over the first six games.
    It was expected the Warriors and Broncos would engage in a heavyweight tilt, and that tilt has materialized. The Warriors finished first overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 52-15-2-3 record, and the Broncos finished second overall with a 48-17-5-2 mark.
    Now, we will see who has enough gas in the tank to take the final chapter of this encounter.

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