We finally made it to Spokane! It was quite a day yesterday with a long delay due to a crash in front of us and a delay at the border. In total it ended up being something like 17 hours on the bus from Swift Current. Thank goodness I’ve mastered sleeping on the bus!
The first game of the trip isn’t until tomorrow night so the guys have today to unwind from the trip and get fresh for tomorrow night. They are also riding high off the best weekend of the season. Some thoughts:
- A comeback like that is never expected. However, it isn’t out of nowhere. I think it was the first day of training camp when Coach Lamb told me that they talked about keeping the same attitude and playing the same way no matter what the score was. They’ve been pushing mental toughness and never giving up on games since the guys arrived here in shorts. We’ve seen this team demonstrate a strong push back from day one. This is just the ultimate example of it. Don’t leave early with this year’s Broncos team. They don’t always win but they don’t phone it in or give up.
- Who better to put the exclamation mark on the comeback than Daniel Dale? The gritty forward wasn’t supposed to bring much scoring when the Broncos signed him. He’s a physical player who wins battles, drops the gloves and seems to be a really positive influence in the dressing room. Any production is supposed to be a bonus. You could see how well he is regarded by his teammates by the way they responded to both of his goals. Even the first goal got a huge reaction even though they were still down 4-2 after it was scored. It’s worth noting that Dale now has 5 points in his last 5 games. Is he suddenly going to turn into a point per game player? Probably not. However, he and the other guys in bottom six roles are proving lately that they can chip in offensively. They have been holding their own all season. If they can start to put up points on a regular basis that will really open things up for their top 6 guys and hold them accountable at the same time.
- Another bottom six guy who stepped up was Christian Magnus. When Adam Lowry was kicked out of the game on Saturday Brad Hoban moved up to the first like and Magnus jumped onto the second unit. He showed terrific vision in setting up both Black’s goal to make it 4-1 and Moser’s goal to make it 4-3. Magnus also went to the net and put home a rebound to tie the game. If not for Dale’s 2 goals it would have easily been a first star level performance for Magnus. The two of them were the spark plugs for the comeback and both easily had their best games of the season. Magnus has had a lot of solid games this season without producing much scoring in the process. He doesn’t have to score to be effective, but he is capable of more production than we’ve seen. There is a reason he was a first round bantam pick. The skills are there. Maybe this performance will give him the confidence to put some numbers up more consistently.
- Have you started to notice an extra buzz in the Credit Union iPlex whenever Graham Black touches the puck? It was even more obvious on Saturday. When he’d pick the puck up at his own blue line and start to skate you could hear the crowd noise start to pick up a little. People are starting to expect him to make something happen. His confidence with the puck seems to be increasing and the results are piling up. He has 10 points in 8 November games and 5 points in his last 2. There is always an adjustment when a player makes the leap from Midget AAA to the WHL. As Black is getting more and more comfortable at this level we are seeing the skills that made him the leading scorer at that level. Meanwhile, his LW Ryon Moser is running at a point per game pace in November as well. If the second line can keep stepping up this way the other teams are going to have some match up issues.
- Jon Groenheyde has as big weekend as well. He was exceptional in the first period against Moose Jaw and gave his team a chance to win that game despite their slow start. When they got down 4-0 to Brandon on Saturday he made some huge stops to keep them within striking distance. There were 2 or 3 saves in the third period that made sure they still had hope. That’s the kind of veteran leadership and clutch play they were hoping for when they picked him up. Groenheyde shows as much as emotion and competitive edge as I’ve seen from a goaltender and that fits in with the way this team is playing right now.
- Erik Fleming has been a very nice addition for the Broncos. The more he plays the more responsibility he gets from the coaching staff. He went from limited minute to playing with Reece Scarlett at even strength and having a role on both special teams units. Sometimes a chance of scenery and an opportunity are all a player needs to take a step to the next level. We could be seeing that happen with him. I’m sure he would love to continue that momentum against his old team in Seattle on this trip.
- The PK was borderline excellent this weekend. They have been making strides on that unit for a while now. What’s the difference lately? They have been more aggressive in challenging teams on their entry. They have been blocking a lot more shots. Groenheyde is playing better hockey lately and not giving up many second chances. If the Broncos are going to climb back into the playoff picture they need both special teams units to be consistent.
- I talked about a few individuals today but both wins were team efforts. The most important thing to come out of the weekend is that the Broncos were able to string a few wins together for the first time this season and they did it against two of the best teams in the conference. Moose Jaw and Brandon are big, talented and tough to beat at the best of times. The coaching staff has been talking all season about how this club is good enough to beat anyone in the league when they play their game. These wins should give the players the confidence to believe that as well.
That will do it for now. The games don’t get any easier. Three teams in the US Division are above a 0.600 winning percentage and no teams are going to be easy to beat in their own barn. For now the Broncos focus on a very good Spokane team for Wednesday night. I’m looking forward to broadcaster in five new buildings. I will take some pictures and maybe some video as the trip continues.
Talk to you Wednesday night… 8:30pm for the pre-game show on The Eagle 94.1 FM.