|Keith Hershmiller Photography|
One short year ago, the upstart Swift Current Broncos and 2016-17 WHL Regular Season Champion Regina Pats treated WHL fans to an electrifying second round series, one which saw the Pats erase a 3-1 deficit to triumph in seven games and eventually advancing to the 2017 WHL Championship Series.
Just last weekend, fans in both Speedy Creek and the Queen City were treated to a little preview of what’s to come in 2018 – and, folks, what’s in store this season just might be better than what had us all on the edge of our seats last season.
Last Friday in Regina, the Pats scored a 3-2 overtime victory in what was a physical, back-and-forth affair. If you went to the Brandt Centre hoping for some heavy hitting and exciting hockey, chances are you did not leave disappointed.
The following night in Swift Current, it was the Broncos registering a 3-2 overtime victory in what was, in so many ways, a repeat of Friday… but arguably on steroids. Even more physicality, even more speed, even more excitement.
Here’s hoping that the jets have not cooled over the past week, because, boy oh boy, last weekend was incredible. If these two teams were battling to establish a tone for this series, they succeeded. And whatever comes next absolutely will not disappoint.
Glenn Gawdin (56-69–125) gave it a good run and nearly kept pace with Jayden Halbgewachs for the WHL scoring title. Regardless, the Calgary Flames prospect is the heart and soul of this Broncos squad. He’s joined up front with a corral full of deadly weapons, including Florida Panthers prospect Aleksi Heponiemi, Arizona Coyotes prospect Tyler Steenbergen, along with overagers Giorgio Estephan and Matteo Gennaro.
On the opposite side, 2017 WHL Player of the Year Sam Steel guides the Pats with the help of Edmonton Oilers prospect Cameron Hebig, overage forward Matt Bradley, Anaheim Ducks prospect Josh Mahura, Montreal Canadiens prospect Cale Fleury and New York Rangers prospect Libor Hajek.
Folks, buckle up. This is going to be a wild ride.
Game 1 – Friday, March 23 – Innovation Credit Union i-Plex – Swift Current – 7 p.m. MT
Game 2 – Saturday, March 24 – Innovation Credit Union i-Plex – Swift Current – 7 p.m. MT
Game 3 – Monday, March 26 – Brandt Centre – Regina – 7 p.m. MT
Game 4 – Wednesday, March 28 – Brandt Centre – Regina – 7 p.m. MT
Game 5* – Friday, March 30 – Innovation Credit Union i-Plex – Swift Current – 7 p.m. MT
Game 6* – Saturday, March 31 – Brandt Centre – Regina – 7 p.m. MT
Game 7* – Monday, April 2 – Innovation Credit Union i-Plex – Swift Current – 7 p.m.
Key to the Series – Swift Current Broncos
D Colby Sissons
Beefy blueline: Sahvan Khaira stands 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. Josh Anderson sizes up at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. Noah King hovers at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. Both coming in at 6-foot-2, you might almost think Artyom Minulin and Colby Sissons were small in comparison with the aforementioned. All this adds up to one thing – that Swift Current defence is not much fun to deal with. They’ve got reach and range, they can skate and if you aren’t careful, Sissons and Minulin will jump into the rush and burn you. While we’re on that subject, 17-year-old rookie Jacson Alexander is smooth skating and agile as well. At 5-foot-9, he might not strike fear into opponents, but the kid is mobile and sneaky good for a youngster.
Key to the Series – Regina Pats
D Josh Mahura
Depth of Experience: Let’s face it, nothing quite compares with having been to the big dance. The Regina Pats fell just short of the ultimate run in 2017, suffering a six-game defeat at the hands of the Seattle Thunderbirds. But in bitter disappointment there are lessons to be learned. Captain Sam Steel leads the charge up front while reliable two-way blueliner Josh Mahura patrols the backend and you know both these Anaheim Ducks prospects are hungry for redemption in 2018. Robbie Holmes, Nick Henry and Liam Schioler were there in 2017, while the Pats were without the services of Jake Leschyshyn during last year’s run. He is healthy and looking to contribute.
Forward to Watch – Swift Current Broncos
LW Beck Malenstyn (17-15–32): Coming to Speedy Creek as a part of the deal that landed Matteo Gennaro prior to Christmas, Malenstyn has quietly put together a quality season after missing some early time due to injury. With 29 points (17G-12A) in 38 games with the Broncos, the 20-year-old veteran product of Delta, B.C. brings a great blend of grit and finish. Last time we checked, that’s the kind of stuff that gets it done in big-game scenarios.
Forward to Watch – Regina Pats
LW Jesse Gabrielle (13-6–19): Perhaps one of the most surprising names moved at the WHL Trade Deadline, the Pats reacquired the 20-year-old Boston Bruins’ prospect from the Prince George Cougars. Following the deal, the product of Moosomin, Sask. returned to the WHL after having started the campaign with the AHL’s Providence Bruins. The enigmatic winger scored what very well could be one of the most exciting goals of the 2017-18 WHL Regular Season during the final week of the campaign. He has speed to burn and a great goal-scorers finish. The biggest bugaboo against Gabrielle is his discipline – or lack thereof. The Pats are going to require all the offense they can get from the 6-foot, 205-pound forward, and for him to do that, he’s going to need to be on the ice and not in the penalty box. Go figure.