Weekend/Year End Thoughts


(Photo by Darwin Knelsen)

  • Just as I go to post this thing that has been turning into a mess of jumbled words I hear that news of Jon Groenheyde signing with the Allen Americans of the CHL has broken on twitter before the teams released it officially. That’s great for Groenheyde and well deserved after an excellent last few months. I’ll talk more about this later.
  • Again someone asked about the awards I gave you a link to our Swift Current Online article and now here is a link to the Broncos website report on the awards. Hopefully that takes care of it.
  • Well you couldn’t ask for a better finish than that one. The Broncos played a terrific 60 minutes of hockey in their final game of the season. Really it was a solid weekend overall. If not for an undisciplined stretch early in Friday’s game, I would say they were probably the better team in both sides of the home and home.
  • When you look back on the last two weeks there were lots of positives. They were very competitive in one goal losses in Calgary and Edmonton. They shut out Red Deer. They beat Kootenay and won a game in Saskatoon. The Broncos sure didn’t look like a team that had nothing to play for. No matter what you say about the Broncos this season they never quit… on a game or on the season.
  • The biggest positive on the ice in the last two weeks? The play of Graham Black, Christian Magnus and Ryon Moser. They were outstanding again in the final game of the season. Moser made three terrific passes in setting up the three goals the line scored. Black and Magnus each made great shots to beat an elite WHL goalie in Makarov. Their confidence and execution are at a level we haven’t seen for any of those guys yet in their WHL careers. The only negative for them is that the season has to end when they’re playing their best hockey.
  • How good was that line down the stretch? Black had 11 points in his last 5 games and 17 in his last 13. Moser had 9 points in his last 5 games and 17 in his last 15. Magnus turned into a sniper with 7 goals in his last 8 games and 9 points over that stretch. Could they be a line again next season? Black is unquestionably going to be part of the top 6 next season. Moser and Magnus still have to win jobs as overage players. I think they’ve both made a great case for themselves late in the season, but hey are still going to have to win those jobs at training camp. It’s always very competitive.
  • Moser’s season is a perfect example of what a change of scenery and an opportunity can do for a player. He had 20 career points in 115 games with Lethbridge. In one season with Swift Current he more than doubled that with 42 points in 68 games. That’s a great story. His passing lately has been dynamite and it seemed like the end of his season saw him add an extra battle level. He was winning a lot more pucks in the tough areas. Hopefully that’s something he can build on after an important summer for him.
  • Speaking of Magnus… Happy 20th Birthday!
  • I thought Daniel Dale in particular had a very good weekend. He was hungry on the puck and was a force to deal with in the offensive corners. It was good to see him finish strong.
  • It was interesting to see the Broncos score 7 goals in a game without even getting a power play opportunity. They got contributions from every part of their lineup. Guys who scored in that final game like Derko and Rossignol are players who have shown flashes of offence and maybe with a strong summer they can contribute more that way next fall.
  • The Derko/Cave/Bews line didn’t finish the season together on Saturday. They had some great moments in February and their play slowed a bit in March. There were lots of signs that those young guys can be a force and has some significant room to grow.
  • One of the biggest problems with the Broncos in 2010-2011 was lack of scoring from the blue line. Reece Scarlett’s 24 points were the highest total for any defenceman on that roster. He more than doubled that to 49 points this season. Richard Nedomlel went from 10 points in his rookie season to 46 as an 18-year-old. Even more telling? Scarlett and Nedomlel’s combined 95 points are 4 more than the Broncos got from all of their d-men last season combined! A guy like Dalton Reum showed he has more offensive instincts than expected. They went from 91 points from defencemen in 2010-11 to 150 points from their group this time around. That whole group could be back next season. However, a couple of them would have to win spots as overage players to do it.
  • Dillon Heatherington is a great example of how to work a 16-year-old high-end prospect into the lineup slowly. He was in and out of the lineup and his minutes were limited early. As the season progressed and he got up to speed the coaching staff gave him more rope. By the final month of the season we started seeing a guy that scouts are asking a lot about. He scored 6 of his 10 points in the final 17 games of the season. He also had a very impressive +8 in March. More important that all of that, he has played very well on a pairing with Reece Scarlett against some top opposition.
  • I’ve heard more times than I can mention recently about how people are noticing Graeme Craig’s newly acquired mean streak. He talked to me about it recently in Brandon. Craig is now getting that to do his job effectively he’s got to get a little mean and physical. The message has clicked in and we saw a much improved player. Guys are not going to be happy to play in Swift Current’s end when guys like Craig and Nedomlel play big and mean.
  • Nedomlel’s shot block on the PK in the last few weeks has been excellent.
  • You like toughness? I heard all of last year about how the Broncos weren’t tough enough. This year? They fought more than any team in the league and always made teams pay the price physically. Andy Blanke became one of the legitimately toughest guys in the league whose punching power took a major step forward. He was joined by a team full of guys who were always willing to answer the bell and play gritty. If you asked for that you sure got it.
  • Jon Groenheyde finished his career on a high note. He had a save percentage of 0.923% for March and finished at 0.900% for a full season for the first time in his career. In 2012 he was as good as any other goalie. Hopefully finishing on that note will get him opportunities.
  • What is Swift Current’s future in goal? Austin Smith played in 9 more games this season, increased his save percentage by 14 points and cut his goals against average by more than a goal. Is that enough to earn the job as the starter next season? Will Steffen Soberg decide to at least give North America a try for a season after the Broncos let him play the second half of the season with his Norwegian pro team? He raised his save percentage by 14 points as well. What about potential rookies like Landon Bow, Steven Myland, Alec Dillon or Danny Todosychuk? They’ve all made different cases for themselves at the midget or Junior A level. There seem to be more questions than answers between the pipes.
  • Brad Hoban’s 4 point weekend allowed him to finish at a pace of 23 points in his last 21 games. He finished with a career high 53 points and it was nice to see him finish on a high also. I talked to him briefly on Saturday and he’s again a class act. I hope he finds some opportunities as well.
  • Taylor Vause didn’t play much in his last game as a Bronco due to an upper body injury. It couldn’t have been that serious as he was in Austin tonight to play for the Texas Stars. Even in limited ice he was still able to record a point in his last game as a Bronco in setting up Coda Gordon for his 30th goal of the season. It was nice to see the fans in Saskatoon give all three overage Broncos a nice ovation.
  • Vause is wearing #19 so far with the Texas Stars. They lost 5-2 to Abbotsford in his first game. He had a shot and an even plus/minus.
  • Gordon has had a chance to play extensively with the two departing overage forwards. They helped him have a terrific rookie season and this is just the beginning for Gordon. It’s no surprise he scored his 30th goal from the front of the net. He’s making a home around the paint. Gordon’s 15 PP goals this season tied him with Vause for the team lead and had him in some pretty elite company. Now we wait to see who might call his name in June.
  • Last year at this time the Broncos didn’t have a single drafted player on the team. Now they have three and might very well have two more by June.
  • Speaking of the power play, it was a pleasure to watch all season. They stumbled a little bit on the man advantage in the last couple of weeks, but they still ended up 4th in the league at 24.5%. That was a 7.4% increase on the previous season. What happened? Brad Hoban credits the improvements Nedomlel and Scarlett made on the back-end. Everyone deserves a piece of the credit. The top unit with Lowry, Vause and Gordon worked so well that when Lowry went down there were conerns the PP couldn’t keep pace. Hoban slid into that role and they kept firing. The good news is that with Lowry back next fall they will still have 4/5 players from the original top unit. Vause won’t be easy to replace… but many teams will be missing far more than one piece of their top power play unit puzzle. The Broncos should, to some degree, be able to pick up where they left off.
  • Meanwhile, the PK had a strong finish despite a disappointing season on that unit. Only Brandon gave up fewer power play opportunities than the Broncos this season, but Swift Current still gave up the 5th most PP goals against because of their last place PK. The 72% was nearly 10% bellow their pace last season. It is interesting to note that PP efficiency was up all throughout the league this year as well. All but 4 PPs in the league were above 19% and 15 teams were above 20%.
  • The Broncos made an 8 point improvement this season from 54 to 62. They scored 35 more goals and allowed 12 more. That left them with a goal differential of -56 compared to -79 last season. Their home record improved from 15-21 to 18-14-1-3. They are small improvements but improvements none the less.
  • If you have listened to any of the interviews with the coaches and players wrapping up the season, culture change is a consistent theme. I know no one is happy not making the playoffs… but the culture change has been very positive. This group went to war every night and never gave up no matter the situation in the game or in the season. They played with grit, heart, determination and toughness all season. They were far more competitive and entertaining as a unit, especially compared to the second half of last season. All the coaches talked about how the Broncos have established the identity they are seeking and now the players know what is expected of them when playing Bronco Hockey in this new era.
  • So is that all good enough? Of course not. Winning is the bottom line and everyone knows it. Why didn’t they win? There’s a long list of reasons for that too. Inconsistent goaltending hurt them badly when the offence was rolling in the first two months. Lack of scoring depth hurt them as things dried up a bit, teams stopped taking penalties against the Broncos (because of their deadly PP) and Lowry went down to injury. The D improved significantly, but they were still relying on a group mostly dominated by 18-year-olds. You want to see the difference being 19 and 20 can be? Look at the Pats. Their veteran core on the blue line was their saving grace on a team that relies almost entirely on Jordan Weal for goal production. A lot of the difference comes in decision-making and limiting turnovers. The PK being even 5% better all season would have saved them a lot of goals. As much improved as they were at home… they tied for the second worst road record in the league. Their second periods were a nightmare and they gave up too many goals late in periods. That’s a partial list.
  • The point in saying all these things is that I’m aware not everything is perfect and wonderful. When you finish in 10th place there is a LOT of room for improvement and everyone is aware of that. The reasons for optimism are that this was the first full season of a rebuilding process initiated by the Cody Eakin trade and a lot of things in that process are going well. You may have seen the exchange of comments going down between myself and one poster in particular a few threads down on this topic. That sums up a lot of my views on how this process is going.
  • I think the coaching staff got a lot out of these players. Their work ethic was consistently a top of mind topic whenever I wast talking to someone about the team. I heard something along the lines of “Boy Mark has them playing hard” or “those guys are in a lot more games than I thought they would be” a lot. Ultimately they just didn’t have enough talent this year. That’s not to rip anyone on the team… there are a lot of talented guys in that group. Many of them just haven’t reached their junior ceilings yet. The identity is set and now most of the team is able to come back one year older, stronger and wiser. With the right moves to fill the gaps in the lineup I see no reason why this club won’t be in the playoff mix.
  • That said… next year isn’t the payoff from the rebuild. Hopefully fans realize that the pieces they’ve started gathering in that process are only going to barely start to make a dent when they come together as a team next season. This group’s success or failure next season is largely controlled by the success of their core 1993s. I believe that core is good enough to lead the charge back into the playoffs in their 19-year-old year. Are they good enough to be the core of a contender? Other guys would still have to make a big leap and management would have to make some very shrewd moves. The team should be better though. How much better depends on a lot of factors. Those 93s came along well before anyone uttered the word rebuild. They are right in the middle of the culture change here… but again don’t expect the payoff of this building process yet. The first group of talent coming from that process is only old enough to start their rookie seasons in the WHL this fall if any of them make the team.
  • I’ll talk more about the key questions and decisions this team faces heading into the summer at a later time.
  • I’ll end my rambling post of jumbled thoughts with some thank yous. Thanks first to the Bronco organization for again being such an easy partner to work with. The staff work their butts off more than anyone knows and always do anything they can to help me out when I need something. They’re always friendly to me and genuinely care deeply about the organization. It’s important people know that. As a part of that I should again congratulate Jordan Wall on his new job with the Riders. He’s been a great asset to the Broncos and those are big shoes to fill. I appreciate everything staff does for us at the station.
  • Speaking of the station thanks to them again for giving me the honour of calling WHL games. Anytime I start taking it for granted I pinch myself and think how lucky I am to be doing this job. The other issue with me doing hockey is that I’m not around near as much to contribute to the news and other aspects of our product where other guys have to pick up the slack. I appreciate them doing that. Thanks also for my revolving door of colour guys and game producers this season. Hopefully we can get some consistency next fall! I think Terry is the only guy to do more than 5 games this season. Hopefully he comes back! I appreciate the help everyone has given me and hope the broadcast has improved over the 140 or so games I’ve done here so far.
  • Finally thanks to the hockey staff and players. They are a very accommodating, friendly and polite group of people who I’m proud to work with all season. The organization and parents of all those young men should be proud of the way they carry themselves. That starts with a classy example from the top.
  • Thanks also to everyone who listens and everyone who reads the blogs. I really appreciate all the kind words I hear… and even some of the not as kind words. Whether you’re a parent or a fan there sure are a ton of people who care about the Broncos and I’ve enjoyed getting to know all of you a little bit more this year. Hopefully even more so in coming years.
  • It sounds like I’m leaving or something. I’m not saying my goodbyes I just get rambling too much on blogs sometimes. Like that was way too much rambling. I’d cut it but I do genuinely appreciate everything people do for me over a season.

That’s enough for now. There is a lot still left unsaid and a lot still to talk about. I’ll have more season review type posts to come on things like alumni, prospects, surprises, stat trends, lineup questions and highlights. I still have to post that Vause retrospective I should have put up a couple of days ago too. I will get that up ASAP. I also want to put up a section on the blog for the broadcast location videos I’ve made.
What do you want to see more or less of on the blog? Is there anything you think is really missing or could really add to the coverage? Let me know here or by email smullin@gmail.com

The season ending doesn’t mean Broncos coverage ends. The off-season has its own fun to deal with starting with the draft lottery tomorrow and another huge draft for this franchise.

Before I forget… I posted my Eastern Conference picks on twitter already but here they are again… Edmonton in 5, Moose Jaw in 7, Brandon in 6 and Medicine Hat in 7.

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About shawnmullin

Play by Play Broadcaster for the WHL's Swift Current Broncos on 94.1 FM The Eagle.
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14 Responses to Weekend/Year End Thoughts

  1. sheldon reinhart says:

    edmonton 5 moose jaw 6 med hat 7 brandon
    ed 6 mj 6
    ed 7

    • shawnmullin says:

      taking it a step further eh! I’ll say if my predictions go as I suggested it will be Edmonton over Brandon in 5, MH over Moose Jaw in 6 and Edmonton over MH in 5.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Shawn, I would like to thank you for doing a great job on the air and the blog. You represent our Team and our City very well…already looking forward to next year!

  3. Anonymous says:

    What are the Broncos needs and wants going into the bantam draft? With another high pick they should get a good player.

  4. Jeff says:

    I gotta take Edmonton in 6, MJ in 7, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Regina come out in 7, Cal in 6, Med Hat in 6.

    I read that after the 1st round the Bronco’s will drop down to 7th every round based on the regular season point total alone….to me that does not make any sense at all. So you are punishing teams from stronger divisions for having more points than the crappy teams that made the playoffs in the weaker conference. Unreal, only in the WHL.

    • shawnmullin says:

      It’s an interesting debate. I do like that at least the non-playoff teams get the advantage in the first round when it matters most… but what happens after that I can see both sides of it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Brilliant answer Dustin. Who are the best players?

  6. karen gordon says:

    Thanks for the great entertainment Shawn! Especially your game coverage. I don’t think any announcer knows more of the players in the league than you do. It is really refreshing to switch to your commentary during whl live games to really find out what is going on. Sometimes the whl feeds were off and we could always go to your commentary !. Loveed all your articles as well.Very insitefull. Thanks again. We will be checking your blog out during the summer too

  7. Anonymous says:

    Some credit to Andy Schneider being added as a conditioning coach. You could really tell at the end of the season our guys were in top shape while other teams were sucking wind. Strength and toughness was a huge improvement. Can’t wait to see guys like Craig and Nedomlel after their summer conditioning programs.

    • shawnmullin says:

      I think that’s a good point. I remember Coach Lamb saying after they hired Andy that they felt like some of their guys got tired in the second half last season. It seems like most guys kept their legs this season.

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