Broncos take lead in Eastern Conference with three home wins
The Swift Current Broncos showed some encouraging signs last week as they won three home games against East Division rivals to finish the weekend atop the Eastern Conference with a 5-1-0-1 record.
The Broncos received outstanding goaltending from veterans Landon Bow and Eetu Laurikainen, continued their third-period dominance, got solid secondary scoring, and continued to slow down their opponents’ top forward units with determined checking.
The Broncos opened the four-game homestand Wednesday when Graham Black had a three-assist night in helping lead the Broncos to a 5-3 win over the visiting Saskatoon Blades.
Swift Current held period leads of 2-1 and 4-2, while also outshooting Saskatoon by a 49-25 margin.
Brett Lernout and Jay Merkley both scored their first goals of the season to stake Swift Current to an early 2-0 advantage. Bobby Zinkan counted his first career WHL goal to kick off the scoring in the middle stanza.
Coda Gordon helped give the Broncos a two-goal lead after 40 minutes when he counted his second the year with 1:18 left in the period. Colby Cave rounded out the scoring with his second of the year.
Bronco netminder Landon Bow improved to 3-0 on the season by turning aside 22 of 25 shots. Saskatoon goaltender Alex Moodie dropped to 0-3 on the year despite stopping 44 of 49 shots.
Friday, the Broncos beat Dawson MacAuley on three of their first eight shots and never looked back on their way to a 6-1 win over the visiting Regina Pats.
The Broncos moved to 3-0 against the Pats early this season, led by two goals from overage forward Connor Sanvido.
Jake DeBrusk, Julius Honka, Gordon, and Merkley also scored for the Broncos. Sanvido added an assist, while Honka and Gordon both added two assists during three-point outings.
Morgan Klimchuk scored the lone goal for Regina as they dropped to 1-5-0-0.
Laurikainen picked up the win with 25 saves to improve to 1-1-0-1 this season.
Saturday, the Broncos moved into first place in the Eastern Conference with a win over another East Division rival.
The Broncos’ dominance of the final frame continued with three thirdperiod goals in a 5-2 win over the visiting Prince Albert Raiders. The Broncos have now outscored their opponents 11-2 in the third period as they improved to 5-1-0-1.
Prince Albert, ranked second in the most recent Canadian Hockey League rankings, fell to 5-2-0-0 one night after losing 9-1 to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The Broncos led 2-1 heading into the third period before receiving goals from Cave, Merkley, and Black to put the game out of reach. Cave’s second of the game at the 7:42 mark stood up as the winner during his three-point outing.
Laurikainen was outstanding in goal with 28 saves on 30 shots, including several crucial saves in the second period to maintain the one-goal lead. Cole Cheveldave suffered the loss with 29 saves on 34 shots.
Gordon and Cave scored in the first period to give the Broncos a 2-0 lead before Leon Draisaitl replied for the Raiders. Dakota Conroy scored a late powerplay goal for Prince Albert to close the scoring.
“We played a really good first period and did a lot of good things,” said Lamb. “You knew there was going to be some push back. We took some penalties and started cutting some corners. When you do that, that’s what is going to happen. The good news is we got great goaltending, Eetu kept us right in it. Then we had timely scoring where we can get ourselves back in games.”
Thirteen players have scored for the Broncos in their first seven games.
“We have chipped in and it comes from the back end and from a guy like DeBrusk. We have some rhythm in our lines right now, even down to our fourth line, [Glenn] Gawdin had a couple of assists last night and he is coming from the fourth line and playing some powerplay. He looks ready to take more ice. The rhythm that we have going right now is real good and it is a real team and that is what I like about it.”
Lamb also noted the shutdown role that the line of Zac Mackay, Tanner LeSann, and Andrew Johnston played against the top forward units of Regina and Prince Albert.
“Yeah they keep proving it. When that line can do that it really opens it up and it is a lot easier to have other matchups. They con- sistently go against the best players and so far they are doing a great job. They are probably the most important line on our team. They do chip in offensively, but the stuff that they are doing early on here is incredible.”
Laurikainen’s pre-season numbers raised some eyebrows, but he has picked up where he left off in the regular season since returning from Finland.
“He has been incredible …
“He came back and he looks more calm and more confident than he did last year.
“He is going to have a big year for us,” said Lamb.
The Broncos may have been in top spot in the Conference on Sunday, but they had only played one game outside of the East Division.
“I don’t think we have any reason to get overconfident at all,” said Lamb.
“We are just taking baby steps here.
“We have to play good all the time.
“We don’t want to look too far ahead.”
Lamb said that the team remains a work in progress early in the campaign.
“We know what we have.
“We have a young team that is going to go through some growing pains.
“So far they have been up to the challenge.”
One of the most encouraging signs has been the team’s dominance in the third period, outscoring their opponents 11-2 to close out games. “Yeah it really is. “We’re going in and we are playing the right way.
“We are scoring the goals but not turning the puck over.
“It is the little things that make the goals go in, it is not only skill, but we are starting to make some plays.
“Other teams are making mistakes and we are capitalizing.
“We have some skill on our team that if they keep turning the puck over then we will score.”
The Broncos have two games this weekend beginning Friday when they visit the Saskatoon Blades. The Broncos will see their first Western Conference opponent this season when the Vancouver Giants visit the Credit Union iplex on Saturday.
The Broncos will then depart on their annual west coast road trip, which will take them through the U.S. Division this season.
The Broncos will open the road trip against the Spokane Chiefs on Wednesday in their first of five games over seven days.
Lamb said the team is looking forward to the trip.
“It is good for the team to get on the road.
“I was kind of hoping that it would be a little longer so the guys could get out and enjoy themselves and see different parts, all those U.S. buildings are really incredible.
“It is going to be a quick hard trip. By the looks of it those teams are always very strong so it is going to be a huge challenge for us.”
Broncos captain Colby Cave had a five-point weekend during wins over the Regina Pats and Prince Albert Raiders.