Bron­cos re­cover from worst loss of sea­son

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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.

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