With the 2017 Western Hockey League Playoffs set to begin Friday, March 24, WHL.ca provides a look in at each of the eight head-to-head matchups across the league.
What fans can expect is a general introduction to the two teams, coupled with vital statistics and keys to the series. In our player-specific sections, we will highlight Players to Watch that do not serve as the usual suspects – the best of the supporting cast or perhaps the darkhorse playoff warrior.
Finally, we close each of our series previews with a quick look to the past for a brief historical take on the rivalry that exists – or stands to develop.
In our sixth of eight opening round playoff previews, we examine the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos.
The Moose Jaw Warriors may have laid a 10-5 shellacking on the Swift Current Broncos to end the 2016-17 WHL regular season, but don’t expect that to be serve as any sort of accurate precursor to the best-of-seven series these two teams will engage in to open the 2017 WHL Playoffs.
While only two of the clubs’ six regular season outings were decided by one goal and Broncos head coach Manny Viveiros has painted his club as the underdogs, this is a series that could very well be one of the most tightly-contested in the first round of the post-season.
Only five points separated the two teams in the East Division standings and the Broncos went 7-3-0-0 to finish the campaign, the only ugly blemish coming in that wild 10-5 affair on the final night off their regular season. On the other bench, the Warriors levelled off down the stretch, going 5-4-1-0 to close things out.
Both teams know how to score – the Warriors ranked seventh in offensive output and the Broncos finished 10th. Playing key roles on both sides of that are Jayden Halbgewachs and Tyler Steenbergen – two of five players in the WHL to hit the 50-goal plateau in 2016-17.
Defensively, the Warriors and Broncos won’t be caught slacking either, ranked seventh and ninth, respectively. A key part of that reality begins in the blue paint. Zach Sawchenko was named Eastern Conference Goaltender of the Year for the second season running and veteran Jordan Papirny came to Speedy Creek at the WHL Trade Deadline, having backstopped the Brandon Wheat Kings to the 2016 Ed Chynoweth Cup.
This marks the lone all-Saskatchewan matchup of the opening round of the 2017 WHL Playoffs, so soak it up in all its glory.
— #WHLPlayoffs (@TheWHL) March 16, 2017
Game 1 – Swift Current Broncos at Moose Jaw Warriors – Friday, March 24 – 7 p.m. MT
Game 2 – Swift Current Broncos at Moose Jaw Warriors – Saturday, March 25 – 7 p.m. MT
Game 3 – Moose Jaw Warriors at Swift Current Broncos – Tuesday March 28 – 7 p.m. MT
Game 4 – Moose Jaw Warriors at Swift Current Broncos – Wednesday, March 29 – 7 p.m. MT
*Game 5 – Swift Current Broncos at Moose Jaw Warriors – Friday, March 31 – 7 p.m. MT
*Game 6 – Moose Jaw Warriors at Swift Current Broncos – Saturday, April 1 – 7 p.m. MT
*Game 7 – Swift Current Broncos at Moose Jaw Warriors – Monday, April 3 – 7 p.m. MT
Nov. 18 – Moose Jaw (3) at Swift Current (2)
Dec. 27 – Moose Jaw (1) at Swift Current (6)
Dec. 28 – Swift Current (1) at Moose Jaw (4)
Feb. 25 – Swift Current (2) at Moose Jaw (5)
March 17 – Moose Jaw (1) at Swift Current (2)
March 18 – Swift Current (5) at Moose Jaw (10)
|Moose Jaw Warriors||vs.||Swift Current Broncos|
|42-21-8-1 (93 points)||Record||39-23-4-6 (88 points)|
|Second – East||Division Standing||Third – East|
|255 (Seventh)||Goals For||247 (10th)|
|219 (T-7th)||Goals Against||239 (Ninth)|
|20.4% (12th)||Power Play||21.7% (10th)|
|81.7% (Fifth)||Penalty Kill||72.7% (21st)|
|Eliminated in Conference Final||2015-16 Playoffs||Did not qualify|
|Jayden Halbgewachs – 50-51—101||Leading Scorer||Tyler Steenbergen – 51-39—90|
|Brayden Burke – 19-63—82||Second Leading Scorer||Aleksi Heponiemi – 28-58—86|
|Brett Howden – 38-43—81||Third Leading Scorer||Ryley Lindgren – 27-47—74|
|Jayden Halbgewachs – 50 goals||Top Goal Scorer||Tyler Steenbergen – 51 goals|
|Josh Brook – 8-32—40||Top Scoring Defenceman||Artyom Minulin – 8-42—50|
(30-14-6-1, 2.79, .917, 3 SO)
|Top Goaltender||Jordan Papirny
(21-18-1-2, 3.21, .907)
Key to the Series – Moose Jaw Warriors
Jayden Halbgewachs: ‘The Magic Man,’ as he is known, was one of the most electrifying players in the entire WHL this past season. He was one of five players to hit the 50-goal plateau and was rewarded Wednesday morning as he was named to the WHL’s Eastern Conference Second All-Star team. The slick product of Emerald Park, Sask., has the ability to break a game open and the Broncos know all about this, having watched the 5-foot-8, 160-pound pivot stack up seven points (4G-3A) against them in the aforementioned 10-5 shelling.
Key to the Series – Swift Current Broncos
Penalty kill: If the Broncos can’t get their 21st-ranked penalty-killing unit to shape up, they will be in deep trouble against a dangerous Warriors squad. With the likes of Halbgewachs, Brayden Burke, Brett Howden and others, there is no shortage of weaponry that will be happy to take advantage of a meandering and lost penalty-killing unit. Jordan Papirny will need to be the best penalty killer for the Broncos and with that, he will require all the support he can get from Artyom Minulin, Max Lajoie and Colby Sissons.
Forward to Watch – Moose Jaw Warriors
LW Tanner Jeannot (19-33—52): The 19-year-old Jeannot is a playoff warrior through and through. He emerged as an impact player during the 2016 WHL Playoffs when he racked up 15 points (6G-9A) in 10 games. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound left winger provides veteran leadership, two-way presence and a physical edge that makes him an absolute menace when the stakes are raised during the post-season. He is fresh off a career regular season, having collected 52 points (19G-33A) in 71 games.
Forward to Watch – Swift Current Broncos
C Lane Pederson (25-40—65): While Tyler Steenbergen seems to score all the goals and Aleksi Heponiemi sets them all up, Lane Pederson has been along for the ride, providing an effective two-way presence. His quiet, yet critical role was recognized prior to the start of the 2016-17 campaign when he earned a three-year, entry-level contract with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. From there, he was named to Team WHL for the 2016 CIBC Canada-Russia Series, representing in Prince George and Edmonton back in November. Pederson might not execute in the same flashy manner as Steenbergen or Heponiemi, but this Broncos team isn’t where it is without the 6-foot-1, 196-pound product of Saskatoon.
Defenceman to Watch – Moose Jaw Warriors
Jett Woo (5-17—22): He is only 16 years old, but Jett Woo is already an impact player and he even brings with him WHL playoff experience. The Warriors were so confident in the former fourth-overalll selection (2015), that they saw fit to bring him in during the 2016 WHL Playoffs, where he suited up for five games. In his rookie campaign, the 6-foot, 194-pound product of Winnipeg showed serious flash as to why the Warriors are so high on him, securing 22 points (5G-17A) in 65 games. This kid is going to be a star and what better stage to show it on than the 2017 WHL Playoffs?
Defenceman to Watch – Swift Current Broncos
Max Lajoie (7-35—42): The 19-year-old prospect of the Ottawa Senators (2016 – fifth, 133rd) does plenty of heavy lifting for the Broncos and will be tested to a series degree with the speedy and crafty likes of Halbgewachs and Brayden Burke, plus the brawn of Jeannot, Noah Gregor, Thomas Foster and others. Lajoie put up three points (1G-2A) in four games during his first and only foray into the WHL Playoffs back in 2015. He will need to elevate his game even further come 2017.
Goaltender to Watch – Moose Jaw Warriors
Zach Sawchenko (51 GP, 30-14-6-1, 2.79 GAA, .917 SV%, 3 SO): Snubbed at the 2016 NHL Draft, Sawchenko came back to the WHL with something to prove. He was named the WHL’s Eastern Conference Goaltender of the Year in 2016 and repeated that honour once again in 2017. Having won five of his 10 post-season appearances in 2016, Sawchenko is now a year older and more experienced. He will need to be at his best with a WHL Champion holding down the opposite crease.
Goaltender to Watch – Swift Current Broncos
Jordan Papirny (43 GP, 21-18-1-2, 3.21 GAA, .907 SV%): After spending his entire WHL career in Brandon, 20-year-old Jordan Papirny probably assumed he was going to finish his sojourn with the Wheat Kings, especially after helping them to the 2016 WHL Championship. Alas, that was not the case as he was dealt from Brandon to Swift Current in a trade that came right under the wire on WHL Trade Deadline day. Now, the product of Edmonton brings his enviable post-season experience to Speedy Creek, hoping to end his career on a high note with the Broncos. In 49 career WHL playoff games, Papirny is 33-16 with a 2.87 GAA, .910 SV% and one shutout.
Playoff History – Moose Jaw Warriors
It’s been a long time since a WHL Championship found its way to Moose Jaw. In fact, the very first WHL Championship was won by the Moose Jaw Canucks back in 1967. The best run the Warriors have seen in recent years is a trip to the Eastern Conference final in 2012, where they dropped a five-game set to the eventual WHL Champion Edmonton Oil Kings. The last time Moose Jaw made an appearance in the WHL Championship? The year was 2006, where they fell to the Vancouver Giants in a four-game sweep.
Playoff History – Swift Current Broncos
The Swift Current Broncos have won two WHL Championships (1993, 1989) during their time in Saskatchewan, plus one other while the franchise was located in Lethbridge (1983). After missing out on the 2016 WHL Playoffs, the Broncos are back and looking to advance to the second round for the first time since 2008 when they dropped a six-game series to the Calgary Hitmen. The last time the Broncos advanced to the Eastern Conference final was 2001, which resulted in a six-game defeat at the hands of the Red Deer Rebels. The last time Swift Current appeared in the WHL Championship was back in 1993 when they knocked off the Portland Winterhawks in a thrilling seven-game victory.
Head-to-Head Playoff History – Swift Current/Lethbridge Broncos and Moose Jaw/Winnipeg Warriors/Canucks
1998-99: Moose Jaw Warriors defeat Swift Current Broncos 4-2 in Eastern Conference first round
1990-91: Moose Jaw Warriors defeat Swift Current Broncos 3-0 in Eastern Division first round
1988-89: Swift Current Broncos defeat Moose Jaw Warriors 4-0 in Eastern Conference semifinal
1985-86: Moose Jaw Warriors (4-6-0) advance as Lethbridge Broncos (1-9-0) are eliminated in Eastern Division round-robin
1982-83: Lethbridge Broncos defeat Winnipeg Warriors 3-0 in Eastern Division first round