Justin Spagrud and Edgars Kulda (photo by Darwin Knelsen)
Interview with Broncos Coach/GM Mark Lamb
The Swift Current Broncos made some roster moves yesterday that included a tough release. Gull Lake’s Justin Spagrud was among the cuts Swift Current announced after their first three pre-season games. The 19-year-old has been a pro on and off the ice, but knowing the numbers game may catch up to him the team let him go early so he would have a better chance of maybe catching on somewhere else.
The reality for this team is that there are too many older players who would slot in that third or fourth line type role. As it stands you could predict Colby Cave, Coda Gordon, Jay Merkley, Glenn Gawdin and Jake Debrusk will be in a top six role. That leaves one more top six spot open for everyone else on the roster that wants to move up. Say Andreas Schumacher ends up taking that spot… the Broncos would then have had Andrew Johnson (20), Tanner LeSann (19), Zac Mackay (19), Austin Calladine (19) and Spagrud as older junior aged players all looking for spots in the bottom six. You can’t have five players in that age range in your bottom six. It just doesn’t allow enough room to develop young guys and how many veteran players at that stage of their career want to be in the press box half the time?
I would even be somewhat surprised if they end up keeping all the older veterans they have now. There might be at least one other tough decision to make here among that group before the end of camp.
Spagrud is a guy who obviously has a bigger connection with the local audience than a typical player because he’s a local (Gull Lake) product and he has been very active in the community. We have watched him grow up as a player making contributions to minor hockey in this area before making the big club and heavily involving himself in team sponsored activities. As the Broncos said in their tribute to him on facebook, Spagrud marched in parades, read to kids, played floor hockey with them and was here in the summer when other guys were gone stepping up when called upon. He was never a distraction when he didn’t play as much as he would have liked to and always kept his head up.
The unfortunate thing for him is a terribly timed injury snuffed out the best hockey he had played in his WHL career. Spagrud was playing so well last November that Mark Lamb had him out on the ice in overtime. He usually doesn’t run more than 4 or at most 6 forwards in any given regular season overtime. Just as he was getting that opportunity an ankle injury struck him down. Justin returned six weeks or so later and just wasn’t the same. I talked to him some this summer and he told me his ankle never felt right down the stretch. Those kinds of injuries don’t heal on anyone’s timeline.
It’s lousy because that was his opportunity to establish himself in a bigger role. Trying to do that now in pre-season with some young guys making a push is a lot harder.
I hope he’s able to catch on somewhere else if he’s interested in doing that. If not he was an admirable Bronco and had a very strong minor hockey career.
The other moves saw 16-year-olds Owen Seidel and Matthew Parsons head back to midget with contracts in their back pockets. Both guys would have absolutely had to blow the doors open to get on the roster the way it was constructed this year. Instead they showed enough to earn contracts and commitments they will get another good opportunity in the future. Going back to a team where they can play a bigger role is probably the best thing for them at their age.
17-year-olds Brandan Arnold and Brayden Uhrich were also re-assigned. Arnold turned heads at last season’s camp to earn a WHL contract. That’s no guarantee you’re going to be on the roster the next season. This cut also doesn’t mean there is no hope for him making it again in the future. He’s a feisty and competitive guy who has a lot of heart. Another year developing won’t hurt him either. Uhrich stayed as long as he did in camp by showing a gritty side. He was in people’s faces and making noise out there. There are roles in hockey for those kinds of players if they can do enough other things. Again another year developing those other skills certainly won’t hurt him.
Dominic Schmiemann going back isn’t even a story really as he is a 15-year-old and can’t play. Schmiemann showed well and I’m sure will push very hard for a spot next season. We will get to see him a few times this year as he’s playing Saskatchewan Midget AAA for Notre Dame.
There are now 16 forwards, 9 defencemen and 2 goalies on the roster. Remember Julius Honka isn’t included in those defencemen so if he comes back from Dallas that would mean the Broncos have to make an additional cut.
I don’t expect much movement until guys start coming back from NHL camps. In addition to Honka the Broncos will see Dillon Heatherington, Brett Lernout, Brycen Martin and Colby Cave head off to pro camps. Cave is the only one who could stick in the pro ranks by playing in the AHL. All the others would have to crack the NHL and the odds are they will likely be back for the season after some valuable experience. It’s more a question of how soon.
Friday the Broncos host Moose Jaw in their next pre-season game. They visit the Warriors on Saturday.