It feels almost like it was just yesterday, but it’s been a quick 132 days since the Swift Current Broncos brought the Ed Chynoweth Cup back to their small, but energetic city along the Trans-Canada Highway and the province of Saskatchewan as a whole.
When their Western Hockey League Championship banner is raised Friday night at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex, last year’s group will be immortalized among the WHL’s best while icing a vastly different roster looking to continue on that legacy.
Gone is captain and long-time Broncos forward Glenn Gawdin. Talking about a heart-and-soul player for a franchise may be a tired intangible in hockey writing, but Gawdin was exactly that and then some for the Broncos. The captain and eventual WHL Playoff Most Valuable Player led all players in scoring during the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series, tallying seven points (5G-2A) in the six games. This came after three grueling rounds to help the Broncos capture the Eastern Conference Championship and 67 regular season games from Gawdin that saw him record an incredible 125 points (56G-69A) to lead his team.
Also gone are the likes of Tyler Steenbergen, Aleksi Heponiemi, Beck Malenstyn, Giorgio Estephan, Matteo Gennaro, Colby Sissons, Josh Anderson along with the brick wall known as Stuart Skinner. For all nine, professional hockey awaits them, a testament to the depth former head coach Manny Viveiros was able to develop through the WHL Bantam Draft and add to his team over the previous 12 months.
An endless amount of Steenburgers, Minulin’s Mini Donuts, and Gawdin’s Gawd Dog fueled a fan base hungry for success during the course of the season, but capturing the Ed Chynoweth Cup for a third time in franchise history remained their top item on their list.
Throughout the season, these different players rose to the occasion when called upon. Early on in the season it was Steenbergen’s rapid goal-scoring pace that led the way, earning him a pair of WHL On the Run Player of the Week Awards and the WHL Player of the Month honours for September-October 2017. Then came Heponiemi and Gennaro, with the former capturing a pair of WHL On the Run Player of the Week Awards while Gennaro earned one himself a month after he was acquired from the Calgary Hitmen.
Skinner also did his part, earning WHL Goaltender of the Week honours three times before the 2018 WHL Playoffs began, raising his game from the end of March to midway through May. Through it all though was Gawdin, leading his team in scoring, sparking them with a key goal or pass to a teammate for the critical score. He also picked up WHL Player of the Month honours for February 2018 as his team continued to press upwards on onward.
Outside of the team’s ridiculous depth, there were the younger components to the team roster that will now occupy veteran roles when the puck drops on the 2018-19 WHL Regular Season. Kaden Elder and Max Patterson, who provided reliable secondary scoring last season, are now in the team’s collection of go-to guys when it comes to providing offence.
Finishing with a 48-17-5-2 record, the Broncos entered the 2018 WHL Playoffs as the second-seeded team in the fiercely competitive East Division, topped only by the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy-winning Moose Jaw Warriors.
Engaged in a first round battle against the defending Eastern Conference Champion and Memorial Cup host Regina Pats, the two clubs had an incredible series, pushed to a deciding seventh game that saw the Broncos move on.
That set the Broncos up against another rival in the Warriors, fresh off their own seven-game victory in Round One of the 2018 WHL Playoffs. What resulted was another classic seven game series between the two clubs with Skinner posting three straight shutouts in the enemy territory of Mosaic Place to win Games Two, Five, and Seven.
Entering the Eastern Conference Championship, the Broncos faced off against the Lethbridge Hurricanes in another hotly-contest matchup. The Broncos took the first two games at home before heading to Lethbridge where they were beat 5-1 in two consecutive games. Winning Game Five in Swift Current gave the Broncos the opportunity to close out the series and advance to the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series. A two goal performance by Malenstyn led the Broncos to a 5-1 win and saw them earn the title of Eastern Conference Champions.
The first three rounds saw many outstanding performances by the Broncos. Stuart Skinner was named WHL Goaltender of the Week three times and Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week twice during the 2018 WHL Playoffs. He was also named the Vaughn WHL Goaltender of the Month for April. Additionally, Heponiemi was named the WHL On the Run Player of the Week from April 16-22, 2018.
The 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series was finally here; the series the Broncos had been preparing all season for. The task wouldn’t be easy as they faced off against the Western Conference Champion Everett Silvertips. The series started tough for the Broncos, who lost their first game at home. But the Broncos rebounded, winning the next three games, with two coming in overtime, while shutting out the Silvertips in the other.
After missing a chance to clinch in Game Five, a sixth game was needed as the Broncos headed home with a 3-2 series lead, one win away from realizing their dream. The Broncos were ready and came out quick, finding themselves on the score clock six minutes into the period on a power-play goal by Estephan. Heponiemi also hit the twine in the first, with one second left on the clock, giving the Broncos a two goal lead. The second period and most of the third were without goals until Malenstyn found the empty net with seven seconds left in the game to secure the Broncos the win and see them hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL Champions for the first time in two-and-a-half decades.
For all the effort, the hundreds of goals and thousands of saves and too many kilometres to count, the Broncos got their long-awaited chance to hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup again and a banner that they’ll raise Friday, September 21.
In the end, the journey took 234 days from start to finish, but like it is for each WHL Champion, the memories will last a lifetime.