They did it….
The Swift Current Broncos secured home ice advantage in the opening round of playoffs with a 4-2 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings and in the process recorded the benchmark 40th win of the season.
The other angle to the win? It was their first victory over Brandon in the eight-game season series and first in Brandon since December 9th, 2006. The win snapped a nine game losing skid in the Manitoba city. Finally.
As Wheat Kings Head Coach / GM Kelly McCrimmon said in our pre-game show, “it feels like we are fighting the law of averages”. Eventually something had to give. On a night with a full moon over the city of Brandon, the Broncos got it done.
In a rare and perhaps unprecedented move, the Broncos broke out their Saturday sweaters – the grey jerseys with the SC/Horseshoe logo. The jersey switch-a-roo was initiated by the Broncos training staff prior to leaving for the Wheat City. They needed to change something up after a run of bad bounces and luck from a team (Brandon) that is talented without any help from the hockey gods.
The Broncos built a 3-0 lead after two periods thanks to solid goaltending from Travis Yonkman and singles from Keegan Dansereau (36), Geordie Wudrick (35) and Michael Stickland (25). Stickland’s goal with just 22 seconds left in the 2nd period came on a break-a-way after he danced around Matt Lowry and put it home. The Wheat Kings had the forward Lowry at the point – a 4th forward on the ice for the face-off inside Broncos territory for the final shift of the period. Brandon was looking to generate something offensively but the move back-fired.
The Wheat Kings scored on their first shot on goal in the third 2:25 in on a laser from Cale Jeffries. Taylor Vause restored the three-goal cushion at 12:34 finishing off a break-a-way. Matt Calvert added a PP goal in the dying seconds as the Broncos closed it off with a 4-2 win.
Yonkman was left out of the three-stars which raised a few eyebrows. Not sure who picks the stars in Brandon but they better wake their dog up. Yonks finished the night with 35 saves including some big ones in the first while the Broncos found their legs. Assistant Coach Tim Kehler called it one of his best games this season in our post-game show.
The back-end was solid on the night led by a determined Derek Claffey. The Broncos captain guided the experienced unit and provided some great support for his goaltender.
Spencer McAvoy provided some help at forward – a spot he played for three seasons before his conversion to defense full-time this year. He played well up front and helped out an ailing forward group.
“It’s nice for the guys… (Home ice advantage) is a goal along with 40 wins that we set out at the beginning of the season. To do that tonight in a building where we haven’t had a lot of success in… it was long overdue.” Commented Broncos Head Coach / GM Dean Chynoweth post-game.
“When you look at it, there will be eight teams that will have 40 plus wins and only six have put together back-to-back 40 win seasons so we’re proud of that.”
It turned out to be the perfect night for Bronco fans as the Regina Pats were officially eliminated from post-season contention with Edmonton’s win over Kootenay and the Pats loss in Prince Albert.
The Broncos wrap up the 72 game season with a home-and-home with the aforementioned Pats. I’m worried the weekend could be a gong show. The Pats will have no love lost for the Broncos after five straight losses to their rivals and the fact they’re now out of the playoff mix.
We will see what develops.
- Solid intermission work from the McCrimmon’s beautiful family dog “Digit”. Apparently every year the golden retriever (?) is part of a promotion in which the fans all buy tennis balls and throw them on the ice in the 2nd intermission. “Digit” is then released onto the ice for his pick. He selects the tennis ball and if he chooses yours you win the prize. Digit has a flair for the dramatic. He took nearly two minutes before he selected the lucky ball much to the fans delight.
How could you tell it was Kelly’s dog? Digit barked at the referees upon their arrival for the third period! Just kidding.
- How close is the WHL coaching fraternity? The Broncos coaching staff received a handful of text messages from colleagues congratulating them on their feat of securing home ice advantage and getting to the 40 win mark. Classy.
- It’s looking more and more like the Tigers for the opening round of the playoffs. The last time the Broncos had home ice advantage in the 2002/03 it was also the Tigers in the opening round. It was a four game Tigers sweep. It turned out to be their coming out party for years of success ahead.
- The Broncos improved to 10-1 on Wednesday nights this season. Wednesday has been their night.
- Going into the season who would have picked the Broncos for 4th in the Conference heading into the playoffs? Who would have picked them over Lethbridge and Regina and a Tigers team that looked good on paper entering the season? Some may have. Truth is, I had them pegged for 5th in the Conference in the pre-season broadcasters poll behind Brandon, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Regina.
- F Jan Dalecky didn’t play in this one and as Dean Chynoweth said in our pre-game show he’ll probably miss the weekend too.