Bron­cos take lead in East­ern Con­fer­ence with three home wins

The Southwest Booster - - SPORTS - STEVEN MAH SOUTH­WEST BOOSTER

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.”

Photo by Steven Mah

Bron­cos cap­tain Colby Cave had a five-point weekend dur­ing wins over the Regina Pats and Prince Al­bert Raiders.

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