Broncos & Pats continue East Division rivalry in WHL on Access action
Regina Pats (20-18-3-0)
at Swift Current Broncos (27-10-3-0)
Saturday, January 6 – Credit Union I-Plex – 7 p.m. (Central)
Channels: Access7 SD, Access 70 HD, WHL Live
The New Year is a time for refreshed perspectives and setting sights on new goals for the coming year.
After a less-than-perfect first half, the Regina Pats are making their way upwards as winners of four straight games and are steadily chipping into the lead held by the top three teams in the East Division.
Now just 10 points back of third in the division, the importance of Saturday’s battle between the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup hosts and the Swift Current Broncos hasn’t lost any meaning from when the two teams met in the second week of the season.
Though it’s only a few hours between two cities, Saturday’s date will mark just the second time the team’s have met this season, starting an intense 70-day stretch where they’ll meet five times, igniting the importance in each victory that should see both clubs going for regulation wins to deny the other a chance at easy points in a tight race.
Day by day, the Pats are getting strong. General manager John Paddock went out and made a flurry of moves, acquiring Jared Legien from the Victoria Royals on Dec. 27 and then acquiring Boston Bruins prospect Jesse Gabrielle from the Prince George Cougars Friday.
Legien’s impact has already been felt, with him contributing six points (3G-3A) in four games since moving back to his home province and there’s plenty of reason to think the Pats’ offence will only get better once Gabrielle joins the team.
The imminent return of Sam Steel (Anaheim Ducks) sometime in the next week will also boost an offence that has ended up on the right side of four straight one-goal victories against the East Division, showing some improved resolve in the buildup to the post-season.
One area the Pats can now focus on is improving their power play. Over their last four games, three of their 15 goals have come on the man advantage, with the Pats getting 18 opportunities with the extra man in that time frame.
Steel proved himself to be a valuable member of Canada’s power play on their path to gold, meaning his return could spark more life into a power play that is producing at an average 22 per cent this season.
The addition of a fourth contender to the East Division race isn’t great news for the other teams, of which the Broncos are a member, but it isn’t exactly surprising. The Broncos are facing a similar 10-point gap, trailing the league-leading Warriors for the division and conference title.
Getting back into the Broncos lineup will be defenceman Artyom Minulin, who should help a league-leading power play that has gone just 2-for-12 since returning from the holiday break. That includes a span of eight straight opportunities over their last four games with nothing to show for it. Now, missing the likes of Tyler Steenbergen (Arizona Coyotes), Aleksi Heponiemi (Florida Panthers) and even captain Glenn Gawdin (Calgary Flames) over the past few weeks hasn’t helped the team’s man-advantage, but the need for secondary scoring on the power play will remain a question going forward.
There is the possibility as well that Heponiemi could return to the Broncos’ lineup Saturday, though his fate is still undecided at the moment. After leading the league’s scoring race, Heponiemi will find himself in fourth place when he does return, second on his own team in scoring behind Gawdin. Expect that to add extra motivation to the Finnish forward when he returns to WHL action as the playoff push heats up.
What remains to be seen as the WHL Trade Deadline approaches though, is if both teams are done making any deals. Matteo Gennaro was the big add for the Broncos earlier this season and he’s performed well with 24 points (10G-14A) in 15 games, but any team could always make room for another offensive option in their lineup.
Catch all the WHL on Access action live from Swift Current Saturday!
— Regina Pats (@WHLPats) January 6, 2018
Head coach: John Paddock
Leading scorers: C Matt Bradley (25-23-48); LW Jared Legien (16G-23-39); Sam Steel (14-21-35)
Leading goaltender: Tyler Brown (31 GP, 14-13-3-0, 3.34 GAA, .889 SV%)
Power play: 13th – 22.0 per cent
Penalty kill: 21st – 72.1 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: RW Bryan Lockner (upper body, day-to-day); RW Emil Oksanen (upper body, day-to-day); G Max Paddock (upper body, day-to-day); C Sam Steel (World Juniors – Canada)
Manny Vivieoros talks about Tyler Steenbergen’s World junior winning goal, the return of Artyom Minulin to the lineup and tonight’s game vs Regina. Full interview here: https://t.co/sV4UPRHZyc pic.twitter.com/yBrVAgtW29
— SC Broncos (@SCBroncos) January 6, 2018
Swift Current Broncos
Head coach: Manny Viveiros
Leading scorers: C Glenn Gawdin (32-41-73); C Aleksi Heponiemi (19-52-71); C Tyler Steenbergen (35-26-61)
Leading goaltender: Logan Flodell (34GP, 23-8-3-0, 3.10 GAA, .912 SV%, 3 SO)
Power play: First – 32.4 per cent
Penalty kill: Ninth – 78.9 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: C Aleksi Heponiemi (World Juniors – Finland); C Tyler Steenbergen (World Juniors – Canada)
Sept. 27 – Swift Current 5 Regina 3
Jan. 6 – Regina at Swift Current*
Jan. 27 – Regina at Swift Current
Jan. 28 – Swift Current at Regina
Mar. 16 – Swift Current at Regina*
Mar. 17 – Regina at Swift Current
* Indicates WHL on Access broadcast