Bron­cos reach WHL Fi­nal after 25-year ab­sence

The Southwest Booster - - FRONT PAGE - STEVEN MAH SOUTH­WEST BOOSTER

The Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos scored three goals over 1:36 to ad­vance to the Western Hockey League cham­pi­onship series with a 5-1 win over the host Leth­bridge Hur­ri­canes on Mon­day.

The Bron­cos over­came a slow start with five unan­swered goals to de­feat the Hur­ri­canes four games to two in the best-of-seven Eastern Con­fer­ence Fi­nal. The Bron­cos will now face the Everett Sil­ver­tips in the cham­pi­onship series, their first ap­pear­ance in the cham­pi­onship series since 1993.

The Hur­ri­canes were 8-0 at home in the post-sea­son be­fore suf­fer­ing the sea­so­nend­ing loss in front of 4,929 fans at the En­max Cen­tre as the Bron­cos earned the only road win of the six-game series.

“First of all I would like to con­grat­u­late the Leth­bridge Hur­ri­canes, Peter An­holt and Brent Ki­sio and his staff,” said Bron­cos head coach Manny Viveiros. “I thought they did an out­stand­ing job with their hockey team. They gave us ev­ery­thing that they had. We were re­ally wor­ried, re­ally wor­ried. This series could have went ei­ther way. They could have eas­ily won this series. We got a lit­tle bit of puck luck at the right time. Con­grat­u­la­tions, they did an out­stand­ing job with a re­ally young team. Prob­a­bly a real good chance that Leth­bridge could be in our sit­u­a­tion next year, that’s how good they are. A real good or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

The Bron­cos were for­tu­nate to es­cape the open­ing frame down only 1-0 after be­ing out­shot 20-2. De­fense­man Calen Ad­di­son scored the only goal with a screened shot from the high slot with 3:24 left in the pe­riod, his fourth goal of the series.

“We never got off to a good start,” ad­mit­ted Viveiros. “We talked about us com­ing here and not be­ing on our heels and get go­ing right away. I thought we looked re­ally ten­ta­tive and a lit­tle bit ner­vous at first. I thought Stu [Stu­art Skin­ner] played out­stand­ing that first pe­riod and kept us in the game. We were for­tu­nate enough to get out of that first pe­riod 1-0. We just went in, I told the kids, ‘Lis­ten, we’re three rounds in deep, one win away from go­ing to the fi­nals.’ I says, ‘That’s not who we are again.’ I said, ‘Lis­ten, we’re a team that we play bet­ter when we’re skating, we’re ag­gres­sive, we’re mov­ing and we’re hav­ing fun and it looks like, our first pe­riod, I’m not say­ing we didn’t have fun, but it looks like we’re not en­joy­ing it.’”

The Bron­cos came storm­ing out of the dress­ing room in the sec­ond pe­riod and were re­warded with three goals over 1:36. Mat­teo Gen­naro snapped home a shot 6:33 into the pe­riod and then Aleksi He­poniemi fol­lowed up 29 sec­onds later when he tucked a puck un­der the arm of Lo­gan Flodell for his third of the post-sea­son. Beck Malen­styn added a short­handed goal 1:07 later to make it 3-1 to end an 18game goal­less drought after scor­ing in the play­off opener back on March 23 against Regina.

“Again, our big guys got us go­ing again. We started es­tab­lish­ing a fore-check and we were able to get go­ing 2018 ROGERS WHL CHAM­PI­ONSHIP SERIES HOME Swift Cur­rent Swift Cur­rent Everett Everett Everett Swift Cur­rent

Swift Cur­rent

again. We are pretty lucky be­cause we have a team that once we get go­ing we can score pretty quick. Very proud, very proud of our kids of how they han­dled the sit­u­a­tion after the first pe­riod,” said Viveiros.

“It didn’t look pretty in the be­gin­ning, but I’m happy that we stuck in there,” said Skin­ner, who made 19 saves in the open­ing pe­riod against his for­mer team. “We bent a lit­tle, but we never broke. That’s all that mat­ters. We came out hard in the sec­ond pe­riod and ob­vi­ously in the third pe­riod. I know I had 20 shots in the first pe­riod, but after that I had maybe six, seven shots in the next two pe­ri­ods, so it was a lot of fun. I had a blast, es­pe­cially with team­mates. Just re­ally ex­cited to go to the fi­nals.” DATE Fri­day, May 4 Satur­day, May 5 Tues­day, May 8 Wednes­day, May 9 Fri­day, May 11 Sun­day, May 13 Mon­day, May 14 * if nec­es­sary

Gior­gio Estephan tipped in another goal on the power play in the third pe­riod, his sev­enth goal of the series against his for­mer team. Malen­styn added an empty net goal to close the series scor­ing.

“Just so happy,” said Estephan after the win. “I mean we bat­tled so hard in th­ese play­offs, kind of been go­ing through a lot of long and tough series. It’s good to be re­warded in the end. We are go­ing to the cham­pi­onship, so I mean it doesn’t get much bet­ter than that for sure.”

Skin­ner earned the win with 33 saves, while Flodell took the loss with 22 saves on 26 shots. Skin­ner now leads the WHL with a 2.32 goals against av­er­age and a 0.927 save per­cent­age to go along with his 12-6-2 play­off record.

The Bron­cos are now 7-3 at home and 5-5 on the road dur­ing the post-sea­son. The Bron­cos will have home-ice in the next round, be­gin­ning Fri­day and Satur­day at the In­no­va­tion Credit Union iplex in the 2-3-2 series for­mat.

The Bron­cos lost the only meet­ing this sea­son, 4-1 to the host Sil­ver­tips back on Jan­uary 21 while play­ing their fourth game in five days dur­ing their US Di­vi­sion road trip.

The Sil­ver­tips are led by goal­tender Carter Hart, who trails only Skin­ner with a 2.46 GAA and a .922 save per­cent­age after lead­ing Canada to gold at the 2018 World Ju­nior Cham­pi­onship. Gar­rett Pilon leads the Sil­ver­tips with 24 points in 16 games.

The spe­cial teams matchup should favour the Bron­cos as they are ex­e­cut­ing at 28.4 per cent on the power play, while the Sil­ver­tips are con­nect­ing at 20 per cent. The Bron­cos penalty kill has an 80 per cent suc­cess rate, while the Sil­ver­tips are well below them at 71.8 per cent.

STEVEN MAH/SOUTH­WEST BOOSTER

For­mer Swift Cur­rent Bronco goal­tender Lo­gan Flodell fell on a puck in his crease just ahead of the stick of Tan­ner Nagel dur­ing game five of the Eastern Con­fer­ence Fi­nal on April 28.

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