Well, it wasn't the best of final weekends for the Broncos before wrapping up the first half of the season. Two uninspired efforts against the Blades resulted in only one point after a 5-4 shootout loss Saturday night in S'toon. A lot of people thought four points was possible but alas, the Broncos hit the break in 2nd spot in the East, four points back of Brandon for the division lead.
Last night I thought the team would put forth a spirited effort judging by my "Behind the Bench" interview with Dean Chynoweth where I'm sure the hostility came through loud and clear to listeners. Here's some highlights from the 4 minute chat before face-off.
JK: Do you think teams have figured out your penalty kill or do you think it's just in a bit of a lull right now?
DC: Figured it out? In what sense?
JK: A sense in that other teams have been able to score goals lately when maybe earlier this season they weren't doing it .
DC: (pause) . . . well there's been different fore-checks used, different . . .you know you look at the goals scored last night, the winning goal, went off how many guys, two?
JK: (pause) . . . yea, two or three, but fact is the Blades powerplay is 7 for it last 13, is that a focus tonight to stop the powerplay.
DC: It's a focus every night.
JK: Safe to say it's a hostile environment in your dressing room before face-off?
DC: Well I'm not very happy Jon as you can probably tell, I think, you know we had an opportunity again, missed, which we've said a number of different times this year and I chalk it up to a lack of respect for your opponent. When teams underneath are beating you, we're in no means in any position to take anybody for granted. We're considered the weaker division of the four in the league period and you have to go out and earn it and prove it each and every night. I was disappointed with the 2nd period and it finally caught up to us. In some games yeah, we were able to fight back and have that late surge but in those games also our 2nd period was poor. So it it's something that needs to be addressed and it needs to be tonight.
JK: It could get physical tonight, could be a bit of a war. We've seen in the past both teams are willing to stick up for eachother, so who knows what could happen.
DC: Well maybe that'll light a fire is some guys There's a few guys that need to drop the gloves.
JK: Alright Dean, hey, should be an interesting game tonight, thanks for your time.
DC: . . . . . . .
The referees were awful last night. The two man crew of Sheldon Dean (who?) and Derek Herman didn't have a grasp of anything. I may have been extra hard on them last night but I was trying to make a point. You see, WHL Referee Supervisor Lyle Wilhelm was in the spot next to me in the press box and I was making sure he heard every word I said. The powerplays ended up 8-3 in favor of the Blades including two 5-on-3's for the Saskatoon in which they scored on one of them. The Blades first goal was a result of Grant Toulmin being tackled which forced a turnover and led to the goal. At one point I turned my mic off and said to Lyle "how do you not call that??" By the end of the night he had written about 3 pages in his little notebook. Let's hope he read the riot act to those two officials last night. Wishful thinking on my part, that would never happen.
Good job Ryan Molle. Not only did he get his first ever WHL point, he got his second too! Two assists against the Blades. His 2nd one was fantastic as he show good patience to set up Dale Wiese with a nice pass that led to a tap-in. There's your plug Molls . . . just like you asked for.
So let's break down the first half. Let's first look at the realistic goals entering this season. The Broncos were pegged going in by many to finish somewhere between 3rd and 5th in the East division. With the first half of the season in the books they sit 2nd, and only four points out of first place. They have faced plenty of adversity by so has every team in the WHL - just some more than others.
They didn't go on a long losing streak but they didn't go on a long winning one either. There was three or four occasions in the first half where the Broncos could have strung a 4th or 5th win in a row but were bitten by a team lower in the standings to stunt their hopes. This team has been on the verge of becoming a top half team in the WHL, but just as it appears to be headed that way, they lose to Moose Jaw (2) or Saskatoon (3) to bring them back down to reality.
Goaltending has been up and down but for the most part has been very good. The biggest thing the goaltending has shown in the first half is that there is life after Kyle Moir. Travis Yonkman has provided this team with some solid outings and will be completely able to handle the #1 spot at some point this season or next season. His 2.85 GAA and .905 of save percentage has been solid. I like his athleticism, how he competes, the way he handles the puck and takes care of rebounds. The only thing he's lacking now is that absolute game-saver type save we've seen from Moir time and time again. That will come the more Yonkman plays.
On defense, I like our depth and physical play. We have seven defenseman that have played in every situation. They have been very good for the most part led by Myles Rumsey and Dane Crowley. Crowley will be an excellent captain next season. Mike Wilson, Derek Claffey, Paul Postma and Ryan Molle have played great minus a few gaffs which is to be expected over the course of the year. I do however want to see Postma develop into the offensive d-man as he was touted. 37 games in and he's yet to score. Just think of all the PP time he has been given this season. I'm more than willing to give him a few more looks on the PP in the 2nd half but if he stumbles, we'll need the coaches to explore other options. Problem is those options might not be the answer either. Posty needed this Christmas break, I could see it in his eyes. The kid needs a confidence boost in a big way. Something is bound to go his way shortly. I hope he finds it at home surrounded by friends and family. He needs to shake-off that first half and come back with a positive attitude and ready to play.
The Broncos trade deadline focus has to be the need for a PP quarterback. It might cost something big though. Are we willing to deal the future for the present season? We have to ask ourselves that. Is David Schlemko still available in the 'Hat? It could be a fit but for what price? Not for Levi, not for Crowley, not for Wiese. I have a feeling that's what other teams have been calling for but we can't move those three pieces of the puzzle for next year's team.
As for the forward unit . . . the Broncos have summed up the "scoring by committee" motto to a tee. Check out these goal numbers:
Dale Wiese (11)
Daniel Rakos (10)
Jeremy Schenderling (10)
Geordie Wudrick (9)
Kyle Bortis (8)
Brady Leavold (8)
Zack Smith (8)
Levi Nelson (7)
Four goals separate our top goal scorer from our 8th. If the Broncos can find just one 30 goal man this season and have the rest of the 7 reach the 20 goal plateau that will be just fine.
The late emergence of Grant Toulmin and Matt Tassone offensively also bodes well for the 2nd half. Spencer Mcavoy wants to contribute more but will need to make a good impression when he gets back onto the top two lines. Phil Gervais must continue his bang and crash style and just do whatever is asked of him in his rookies season. Also, look for David Stieler to have a much improved 2nd half just like Daniel Rakos did in his rookie season. Suddenly this style of play won't be quite so foreign to this import center.
After an 18-17-1-1 start in the first half I think this team can shoot for a 35 to 38 win season. It should be good enough for 2nd or 3rd in the East and then it's rock and roll time in the playoffs.
Now, let's hear from you! Leave a comment or two. Your turn.
See you in the 2nd half, enjoy your Christmas!