Memorial Cup champion Broncos reunite during Hockey Day in Canada
The Hockey Day in Canada weekend in Swift Current was a chance to highlight the stories of courage in Swift Current. It was also an opportunity to honour the 1989 Swift Current Broncos Memorial Cup Championship team that turned tragedy to triumph only two seasons after Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka, and Brent Ruff were killed in a bus accident.
The members of the championship team in attendance were goaltender Trevor Kruger, defenseman Bob Wilkie, and forwards Sheldon Kennedy, Tim Tisdale, Kimbi Daniels, and Trent Mccleary. They were on the ice for an alumni/ celebrity game in front of approximately 2,700 fans on Friday night.
“It was great,” said Daniels after his team, captained by Lanny Mcdonald, won 15-5. “I don’t get a chance to come back to Swift Current very often, so any time I do it’s special. Obviously for an event like this is top notch.”
“Sheldon and I were kind of laughing about it at the beginning because the last time we skated here, or I skated here, was the last playoff game we played at home. So lots of memories and a very cool experience,” added Wilkie, who suited up for Team Tucker.
The 1998-89 Broncos ran away with the Western Hockey League title with a 55-16-1 record, 25 points clear of the next closest team in the 14-team league.
Tisdale finished third in league scoring with 139 points in 68 games as Peter Kasowski, Kennedy, Dan Lambert, and Brian Sakic all finished with at least 100 points.
Tisdale said the overall skill level was what stuck out about the championship team.
“Three defenseman back there, they never get enough credit, but Lambert, Wilkie, and [Darren] Kruger were three of the smartest defenseman to ever play in the league. They jumped into the play offensively all the time. Just the depth that we had at forward, when you have a 50-goal scorer on each line teams just couldn’t match up against us.”
Wilkie contributed 85 points in 62 games on a blueline that also featured Lambert’s 102 points and Kruger’s 97 points.
“For me it was camraderie and how tight the team was. Amidst all the chaos we were always able to get together and pull it together. We knew what we could do and to be able to live up to that potential and be the best team in Canada it was a special time,” said Wilkie.
“I had no idea going into my first year there how good of a team it was,” admitted Daniels. “I probably didn’t realize until Christmas that we were as good as we were. It was a real special group of guys, the older guys certainly, I didn’t know it at the time, but really taught me how to be a hockey player, a professional, as I got older in my career. Just being around those guys was how I tried to be around younger players. I definitely learned a lot that year and it was a special time for me.”
The Broncos team set a league record with 180 power play goals, a record that 30 years later has never been seriously challenged.
They were even more dominant in the playoffs as they won series over the Moose Jaw Warriors, Saskatoon Blades, and Portland Winterhawks without losing a single game.
They scored 83 goals in the playoffs, an average of nearly seven goals per game. Tisdale added 32 playoff points, followed by 28 from Lambert and 24 from Kennedy.
The Broncos defeated the host Saskatoon Blades 4-3 in the 1989 Memorial Cup.
Daniels scored the only goal of the third period to send the game to overtime.
“In hindsight it’s probably the biggest goal I ever scored in my life. Just to try and get one early to tie the game, obviously we would have liked to have won it in regulation time, but it just made for a better story I guess,” said the Estevan product.
Tisdale scored the gamewining goal only 3:25 into the sudden death overtime period.
“I remember jumping on the ice and heading to the front of the net. As usual our defenseman are making extra plays back there, things you’d never see guys do later on. Just the awareness of Darren Kruger knowing I’m there. Rather than trying to shoot the puck he makes a play and allows me to tip it in. The building just goes crazy,” said Tisdale.
“We were so confident in our abilities that we were betting cases of beer on who was going to score the winning goal,” laughed Wilkie. “I don’t think there was ever a doubt in our mind and I think that’s why we were able to pull it out.”
“There was just no panic level,” added Daniels. “I think everybody was really confident in their abilities individually and as a collective group that just translated. We were really tough, not necessarily fighting, but guys played hard, were physical, took a beating some nights to score goals. At no point, even down 3-2 in the Memorial Cup and going into overtime, there was just never any panic on our team and that’s probably the thing I remember the most.”
The 6’2’’, 215-pound Wilkie had a 12-year professional career that included brief NHL stops with the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers. He said he had no idea what type of impact the championship season would have on Swift Current over the years.
“For the people and the town and the memories that we left, no. I know that I have carried them around for the last 30 years. It’s one of the most special memories that I have, so I can imagine what it’s done for the town. I really felt it today. I am so glad that they picked Swift for Hockey Day in Canada because I think it’s a great story that the country needs to hear.”
Daniels totaled 30 goals and 31 assists during 1988-89 as a 16-year-old. He had a historic game the following season when he scored all seven goals in a 7-4 win over the host Medicine Hat Tigers on Oct. 20, 1990, which remains tied for the most goals in a single WHL game.
“It was a weird night. I got a couple in the first period. I accidentally blocked a shot in the second period, thought I was going to miss the rest of the game, so I left the ice for a little bit, but came back,” said Daniels. “At the time I was playing with Andy Schneider, who anybody who has watched the Broncos over the years knows he is probably the best passer that has ever come through here. So I had a few tap ins that were real easy that added up to special night.”
Daniels played his first professional game in 1990 with the Philadelphia Flyers and concluded his career in 200809 with the Phoenix Roadrunners in the East Coast Hockey League. Along the way he played in seven different leagues and in every corner of North America. His hockey odyssey took him as far as Slovenia and also included eight seasons with the Achorage/ Alaska Aces near the end of his career.
“I was really lucky. I played in a lot of good spots. I didn’t mind the moving around at all. I played for great coaches. I had great teammates along the way. I enjoyed everywhere I played. I know guys that played in a lot less places than I did and maybe, for whatever reasons, didn’t enjoy it as much. I certainly did enjoy it. When I went to Alaska I thought it was going to be for one year, but I ended up staying for eight and living up there. It’s weird how the world works. I have no complaints, I enjoyed my career immensely.”
Bob Wilkie (left) skated on the iplex ice for the first time since the Broncos 12-0 playoff run in 1989.