Friday, 10 March 2017

Broncos buck off Blades

Saskatoon’s hold on WHL playoff spot slips

Broncos goalie Taz Burman holds off Blades winger Josh Paterson.
    An early lead by the Saskatoon Blades wasn’t enough to make the Swift Current Broncos top forwards go away.
    On Friday night at the SaskTel Centre, the host Blades, who are in a heated race for a WHL playoff spot, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period before the Broncos big guns got going. Swift Current scored twice in the second period and twice early in the third to go up 4-2.
    The Blades cut the gap to 4-3, but the Broncos sealed a 5-3 final with an insurance goal coming on the power play.
    In the Broncos rally, star winger Tyler Steenbergen scored twice to sit with 49 goals on the season. Standout forwards Aleksi Heponiemi and Lane Pederson each had singles.
    The Swift Current tally that hurt Saskatoon the most likely came from the Broncos third line.
Tyler Steenbergen celebrates his first of two goals.
    With the teams locked in a 2-2 draw early in the third, winger Arthur Miller blew down the wall on the left wing and slipped a beauty pass for centre Conner Chaulk in the slot. Chaulk blew home his eighth goal of the season to put the visitors ahead 3-2.
    “I thought we were OK going into the third,” said Blades head coach Dean Brockman. “We got walked down the wall, and they scored that one. It just kind of seemed to deflate us.
    “We are full of emotion right now, and we are in a playoff hunt. When something like that happens, you have to make sure you don’t get too low, and I think we got too low there.”
    The Blades fell to 27-32-7-2 and saw their lead in the standings for eighth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and hold on the conference’s second wildcard playoff berth slip to one point. The Calgary Hitmen, who sit ninth in the Eastern Conference, pulled out a 4-3 upset victory at home over the Lethbridge Hurricanes to improve to 26-31-8-2 to pull within a point of the Blades with a game in hand.
Braylon Shmyr scored twice for the Blades.
    In Friday’s loss, the Blades went up 2-0 in the first, when 19-year-old winger Braylon Shmyr scored twice to delight most of the 4,285 spectators in attendance.
    The Broncos slowly worked their way to an even score in the second. Heponiemi, who is an import from Finland, scored close in at the 12:37 mark of the second to cut Saskatoon’s lead to 2-1. With 2:33 to play in the frame and the Broncos working on the power play, Steenbergen converted backdoor feed to force a 2-2 tie.
    “Getting that goal was pretty nice,” said Steenbergen. “It lifted our spirits a bit to tie the game there. It gave us momentum going into the third.”
    After Chaulk put the Broncos up 3-2, Steenbergen added his second of the contest at the 7:47 mark of the third to put the visitors up 4-2.
    With 10:12 to play, Blades rearguard Evan Fiala, who is known for being a defensive defenceman, scored on a great individual effort cutting across the front of the Swift Current goal and lifting home the rebound of his first shot to cut Swift Current’s lead to 4-3.
    While Fiala’s goal created a lot of excitement for the locals, Pederson took the air out of the SaskTel Centre crowd scoring on the power play with 5:39 to play in the third to round out the 5-3 final in favour of the visitors.
Evan Fiala scored a finesse goal for the Blades.
    The Broncos improved to 36-21-4-6 and lock up at least a third place finish in the WHL’s East Division and a best-of-seven first round playoff series with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
    Steenbergen said his Broncos have confidence in their ability to comeback in games.
    “We’ve been down goals a couple of times this year,” said Steenbergen. “We’ve came back from them. We know we can do it.
    “We got pretty positive in that first intermission. We came out with a little fire under our butts. We’re happy to get the win and clinch that third place spot for sure.”
    Brock Hamm made 23 stops to take the loss in goal for the Blades. Taz Burman turned away 33 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Broncos.
    The Blades and Broncos will go at it again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Credit Union i-plex in Swift Current.
    Brockman said it is challenging to defend against Steenbergen and Heponiemi.
    “Certainly, you have to be aware of them,” said Brockman. “They are both very dangerous guys.
    “They might be two of the best players in the league. We will just battle away.
Aleksi Heponiemi celebrates scoring for the Broncos.
    “We just have to chip away at them one shift at a time. We have to win a game on the road here.”
Going forward, Steenbergen admits the chance to score his 50th goal of the season is on his mind, and he doesn’t want it to be a distraction.
    “It would be nice to get it out of the way,” said Steenbergen. “I am going to try and not think about it too much.
    “It is there. If I get it, I will be really excited.”
    NOTES – Blades forward Kirby Dach, who was selected by Saskatoon second overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, left Friday’s game with an undisclosed injury. His status is uncertain for Saturday’s game. Broncos overage goalie Jordan Papirny didn’t dress for Friday’s contest due to illness.

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