Broncos recover from worst loss of season
The Swift Current Broncos’ weekend got off to an ugly start but the team rebounded with consecutive wins to regain top spot in the East Division.
Friday, the struggling Broncos suffered their worst defeat of the season with an 8-1 loss to the host Brandon Wheat Kings.
It was the Broncos third straight loss and marked the team’s worst loss since a 10-1 defeat in Brandon on Feb. 18, 2011.
Tim McGauley led the Wheaties with two goals and one assist. Eric Roy, Jayce Hawryluk, Jesse Gabrielle, John Quenneville, Richard Nejezchleb and Quintin Lisoway all added singles. Brandon led by 2-1 and 5-1 period margins before adding three goals in the third period.
Eetu Laurikainen took the loss with 14 saves on 19 shots over two periods of work.
Landon Bow worked in relief and stopped 18 of 21 shots. Curtis Honey improved to 10-10-2-0 with 20 saves for Brandon.
Graham Black scored the only Swift Current goal on the power play late in the first period. The Broncos finished one-for-three on the power play but allowed four goals on 10 shorthanded situations.
Saturday, the Broncos ended the losing streak with a 6-3 win over the host Moose Jaw Warriors. Nathan Burns had one of the Broncos’ best scoring chances during a scoreless opening period when he jammed away at a rebound on the pad of Brandon’s Curtis Honey.
Black led the way with four points as the Broncos jumped out to a 5-0 lead that would hold up for a badly needed victory.
The Broncos earned an early lead with goals from Cavin Leth and Brett Lernout 3:03 apart in the opening eight minutes of the contest. They added goals from Black and Jay Merkley in the final 2:02 of the period to lead 4-0 after one period with a 16-6 margin on the shot clock.
Merkley scored the only goal of the second period while shorthanded, his 24th goal of the season.
The Warriors got thirdperiod goals from Jack Rodewald, Brayden Point, and Josh Uhrich, while Colby Cave added a power play goal for the Broncos.
Laurikainen made 23 saves, while Zach Sawchenko suffered the loss with 39 saves on 45 shots.
Sunday, the Broncos moved back into top spot in the East Division with a 3-0 win over the Wheat Kings. Playing their third game in as many nights, the Broncos killed off all eight Brandon man-advantages as they overcame some questionable penalty calls and scored three second-period goals.
Defenseman Brycen Martin scored twice, once on the power play, as the Broncos finished one-forthree on the man-advantage. Laurikainen stopped all 24 shots he faced to earn his fifth shutout of the season. Nathan Burns scored the game winner while shorthanded just 1:47 into the second period during his two-point outing.
“I am not known for usually shooting the puck too much. But whenever I get the chance to the feeling is great, especially when you don’t get to do it too much, just to throw your hands in the air it feels pretty nice,” said Martin after scoring his fifth and sixth goals of the season.
“After that loss we had to take a big look in the mirror and definitely we had to start with Moose Jaw,” said Martin. “Our goal was to play a 60-minute game in Moose Jaw and we were only able to play about a 50minute game. Tonight the goal was to play 60 minutes and we were able to accomplish that and that is why we were successful.”
“The game in Brandon was a blowout and there was a lot of things that were leaking with our hockey club and we had to change some stuff,” added General Manager and Head Coach Mark Lamb. “The guys really responded well. The guys care a lot, they want to do a good job, and I think you have really seen what our team is capable of the last two games.”
One of the biggest changes was mixing up the forward lines and defensive pairings to try and find more balance.
“We have been real spotty and really inconsistent and the way the lines were set up they just were not working,” said Lamb. “They weren’t creating a lot of energy and the rhythm wasn’t there, so we changed it up and changed our defense pairings also. If things are consistently not working and you have a good hockey club then you have to make those changes. Everybody understands that and it really shows these last few games.”
“It is nice that we found some chemistry right away,” added Martin. “Every line is clicking and some guys are playing more than they are used to. Some guys are coming in from out of the line-up and playing a second-line, first-line shutdown role. It is nice to see the chemistry that they have going and hopefully we can keep it up.”
The changes meant some different roles for many players, a move that paid off with two wins.
“When you do that you make a lot of changes. Our depth, when you have Burns, Black, Cave, and Mackay, you have four centreman and really good depth. When things happen like that everybody takes a step back in ice time a little bit and I think that is better for our hockey club. Our matchups here, some nights some guys are going to get the ice time and some nights others are going to get a lot more. The guys understand that, we preach that from day one. We have some guys sitting out that can play in our line-up. But if we are going to have any type of success everybody has to be on board and on any given night they have got to be ready to jump in there and they might get a lot of minutes,” said Lamb.
The Broncos power play unit has dropped to sixth in the WHL at 21.8 percent but they were able to score with the man-advantage in all three weekend games.
“We work on it pretty much everyday in practice because when our power play is in a slump then usually we go in a slump because our power play is such a key to our game,” said Martin. “We just went back to the drawing board every single day and it ended up working out for us.”
“It went through stretches where we couldn’t get any rhythm on it because we had new people in place,” added Lamb. “Out of all those games we never had a lot of power plays in a game. So we could never get any rhythm, we couldn’t make any adjustments during the game and we had new people. So it was just kind of like a slow death. There was no rhythm, no rhythm, and it was hard to find it. We have good players that can play the power play and maybe it is coming around.”
The Broncos now lead the East Division and sit in the second spot of the Eastern Conference with a 2821-2-6 record. Brandon dropped to sixth in the conference with a 28-21-5-1 record. No two-game winning streak comes without a strong performance in goal said Martin after Laurikainen made 47 saves on 50 shots against Moose Jaw and Brandon.
“After we let him down in Brandon it was nice for him to come back and have two wins back to back and especially to cap it off with the shutout. It is good on him and we expect that out of him and a big congratulations to him on the shutout.”
The Broncos will play three games in four days this weekend. They will open the weekend by hosting the Medicine Hat Tigers on Friday in the final regular season game between the two teams.
The Broncos are 2-1 against Medicine Hat this season having won their most recent meeting 4-3 on January 31. Black leads the Broncos with five points in the season series, while Burns has five points during four games played against the Tigers with the Saskatoon Blades and the Broncos. Laurikainen has played in all three games against Medicine Hat with a 2.35 goals against average and a .940 save percentage. The Tigers have scored seven goals against the Broncos and Cole Sanford has four of them. The Broncos will travel to Regina to visit the Pats on Saturday. The Broncos have won all three games against the rival Pats, outscoring them 16-5 along the way, but have not played them since October 4. Julius Honka had eight points in three games and Coda Gordon added seven points as well. The team will be idle Sunday before hosting the Prince Albert Raiders on Monday for a special Family Day matinee game beginning at 2 p.m. at the Credit Union iplex. The Broncos hold a 42-0-1 record against the Raiders heading into the series finale. They have won twice at home and also suffered a shootout loss. Gordon has five goals and 11 points in six games with plus-11 rating against Prince Albert. Black, Merkley, and Burns all have nine points against the Raiders this season. The Broncos will look to contain Collin Valcourt, who has 10 points against them this season, and Leon Draisaitl, who had a hat trick in their most recent meeting.
BRONCO BITS: The Broncos were without defenseman Bobby Zinkan and forward Dakota Odgers in Moose Jaw after both were suspended “for actions at Brandon” on Friday when they got involved in an altercation during a line change. Odgers was suspended one game, Zinkan was suspended three games, and the team was fined $500 for the incident late in Friday’s 8-1 loss in Brandon. Zinkan will be eligible to return Saturday in Regina. Laurikain, a native of Jyvaskla, Finland, played in his 100th WHL regular season game Friday in Brandon. Black finished the week toed for fifth in the league with 45 assists in 54 games. Cave played in his 200th regular season game Sunday and now has 56 points in 57 games, one less than he registered in his first 143 WHL games.