Bron­cos fall be­hind in di­vi­sion ti­tle race

The Southwest Booster - - SPORTS - South­west STEVEN MAH SOUTH­WEST BOOSTER

The Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos con­tinue to re­main in the mid­dle of the pack of a heated play­off race in the East­ern Con­fer­ence. They have fallen off the pace a bit from the East Di­vi­sion ti­tle and now have been forced to look back with teams chas­ing them down for the last cou­ple play­off spots as well.

The Bron­cos fin­ished the weekend with a win and a loss dur­ing an Al­berta road trip that left them six points back of the red-hot Regina Pats for the di­vi­sion lead.

Fri­day, the vis­it­ing Bron­cos could not match the East­ern Con­fer­ence leading Ed­mon­ton Oil Kings in a 41 loss.

Colby Cave opened the scor­ing with a short­handed goal 2:54 into reg­u­la­tion. Lane Bauer tied the game at the 8:56 mark of the pe­riod with his sev­enth goal of the sea­son.

Cur­tis Lazar and Ri­ley Kieser scored goals 1:30 apart in the fi­nal 2:55 of the mid­dle stanza to give the Oil Kings a 3-1 lead. Ashton Saut­ner scored 1:49 into the third pe­riod to seal away the win.

Eetu Lau­rikainen dropped to 20-19-0-5 with 16 saves on 20 shots over 41:49 of work. Lan­don Bow took over af­ter the fourth goal and stopped all 16 shots he faced. Tris­tan Jarry made 25 saves to im­prove to 38-12-1-1 for the Oil Kings.

“We played a real good game,” ex­plained Bron­cos Head Coach and Gen­eral Man­ager Mark Lamb. “We came out, we did what we had to. De­fen­sively we were re­ally strong. We scored a short­handed goal, which we hadn’t done, get­ting up in a game, we have been start­ing slow. So we did what we had to.”

The Oil Kings broke the game open with goals 1:30 apart in the fi­nal 2:55 of the sec­ond pe­riod.

“In the sec­ond pe­riod we made a cou­ple mis­takes and it is 3-1. That’s what hap­pens when you play against a team like that. They don’t change, they just keep com­ing at you and let you make mis­takes. You look at the goals and they were de­flected and they were hit so it was a tough night for Lau­rikainen also,” said Lamb.

Satur­day, the Bron­cos scored four unan­swered goals to end a two-game los­ing streak on the road. Andrew John­son and Coda Gor­don both scored twice to lift the Bron­cos to a 5-3 win over the host Red Deer Rebels.

John­son’s sec­ond goal of the game was the game win­ner when he scored with 7:27 left in reg­u­la­tion for a 4-3 lead be­fore Gor­don scored an empty net goal to seal the win.

Bow picked up the win with 31 saves, his first win since Dec. 28.

Taz Bur­man suf­fered the loss, al­low­ing four goals on 32 shots.

The Bron­cos trailed 3-1 mid­way through the pe­riod be­fore goals from Gor­don and Jay Merkley to tie the game.

Gra­ham Black had four as­sists in the win and Gor­don added an as­sist for a three-point out­ing.

Rhyse Dieno, Scott Feser, and Vukie Mpofu replied for Red Deer, who dropped to 29-30-1-3 and sat ninth in the East­ern Con­fer­ence.

“Yeah that is the good news with this team,” Lamb said of an­other come­back win. “We just had a lapse in the sec­ond pe­riod and we were down 3-1. We re­laxed af­ter the sec­ond pe­riod. There are a lot of tense mo­ments go­ing on with our team and the youth on our team. We just went out there and played in the third pe­riod and played strong.”

The Bron­cos were trail­ing 3-1 un­til Gor­don scored with 33 sec­onds left in the mid­dle stanza.

“When we got that late goal in the sec­ond pe­riod I think that was the turn­ing point,” said Lamb.

He said that a two-goal night from John­son was a wel­come con­tri­bu­tion.

“That is what you need is depth in the scor­ing depart­ment. John­son, in the last month has played re­ally well for us. He is a 94 and he re­ally wants to be a leader on this team. He is go­ing out there and he is lay­ing it on the line ev­ery night.”

The Bron­cos hit the 30win plateau and re­mained sixth with a 30-24-2-6 record. They will play four games over the next five days, in­clud­ing three home games to con­clude that stretch.

They open the weekend in Regina against the East Di­vi­sion leading Pats on Fri­day, their sec­ond game against the Pats in three days.

“They are not an un­known any­more,” said Lamb, whose team had won their first four games in the sea­son se­ries.

“No one, es­pe­cially at the start of the sea­son, no one gave them a lot of credit. They added some play­ers and they have some depth. They have three lines with vet­eran play­ers that have been around and they have a fourth line that is young and learn­ing. Their D are big and strong and they are tough to play against. They traded for a goal­tender at the trade dead­line and he is run­ning the ta­ble right now ... They are a tough team and it is go­ing to be a tough test for us.”

The Bron­cos will be back at home on Satur­day to face the last-place Leth­bridge Hur­ri­canes. The Bron­cos have won both games against the strug­gling Hur­ri­canes with two games re­main­ing in the sea­son se­ries. Black leads the team with four points and Cave and Merkley have both scored twice. Lau­rikainen and Bow each have a win over the Hur­ri­canes.

They will play their third game in as many nights on Satur­day when the Bran­don Wheat Kings visit the Credit Union iplex.

The Bron­cos are 4-2-0-1 against the Wheaties head­ing into the fi­nal reg­u­lar sea­son meet­ing. Black and Nathan Burns each have 10 points in the sea­son se­ries for the Bron­cos, while Tim McGauley and Peter Quen­neville lead Bran­don with 11 and 10 points re­spec- tively. Lau­rikainen has three wins over Bran­don with a .910 save per­cent­age.

Burns had missed three games due to in­jury but Lamb ex­pected him back in the line-up this week.

“Since he has been here he has prob­a­bly been our best for­ward,” said Lamb.

The Bron­cos will face an­other ma­jor test Tues­day when they East­ern Con­fer­ence leading Oil Kings visit. The Bron­cos have lost twice to Ed­mon­ton this sea­son but won the only game in Swift Cur­rent early in the sea­son. The Bron­cos have only scored six goals in the sea­son se­ries but the have al­lowed 11 goals now as seven dif­fer­ent Oil Kings have scored and Jarry has a .938 save per­cent­age against them.

BRONCO BITS: Cave scored his fourth short­handed goal in 204 reg­u­lar sea­son WHL games. The Bron­cos cap­tain now has 28 goals in 62 games this sea­son, one more than he scored in his first 143 games in the league. Black fin­ished the weekend tied for eighth in league scor­ing with 80 points in 59 games. He is cur­rently fifth in the WHL with 51 as­sists.

Booster file photo by Steven Mah

Zac Mackay and the Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos will play nine games in the fi­nal 16 days of the Western Hockey League reg­u­lar sea­son as the chase for the East Di­vi­sion ti­tle goes down to the wire.

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