We’re almost there… hours away from the return of the Broncos to the playoffs and for me the excitement of calling a WHL playoff game for the first time. I know I have some nerves and I can only imagine how the guys actually playing the games feel. That’s got to be especially true for all the guys playing their first playoff games.
I’m posting a preview I wrote or Swift Current Online. I will also write a post at some point before game 1 with some reasons why the Broncos can win the series. Maybe Calgary is deeper/better on paper, but there are lots of reasons for belief and optimism in “Bronco Nation” as well. This should be a very good and very competitive series.
Interview with Broncos Coach/GM Mark Lamb (Download)
- Click here for my Swift Current Online preview
- Click here for the official website game notes
- Click here for the series by the numbers
- Click here Brad Curle’s “Hitmen Informant” Blog
There is also lots of good stuff on the websites for our local newspapers and the Calgary newspapers if your really want to read up on the series.
Here is my series preview from Swift Current Online:
After two seasons on the outside, the Swift Current Broncos return to the WHL playoffs Thursday night in Calgary.
It’s game 1 of a first round best of seven series against the Hitmen. The Broncos come in as the underdog 6th seed against a 3rd seeded Calgary. The Hitmen actually have the second best record in the conference but sit third because the division winners get the top two seeds.
While the opposing coaching staffs are certainly preparing diligently for one another, they aren’t expecting too many surprises.
“Everybody knows what they are,” said Broncos Coach/GM Mark Lamb. “We know who their best players are. You can just tell from the stats. We’ve matched up (reasonably well) this year, we’ve won three games, so we know we have the confidence that we can beat them.”
“They’re a deep team. They finished in the top group for a reason and it’s going to be a tough match-up for us.”
Swift Current won the season series 3-1 including a recent victory in Calgary.
“We’ve been really solid against them all year,” said Broncos forward Chance Lund. “We’ve got to stick with our game, really get pucks deep on their D, really go at them… we’ve got to the limit the turnovers, they transition so well.”
The Hitmen finished 18 points ahead of the standings, but the two teams had almost identical records in the second half of the season. Swift Current went 21-13-0-2, while the Hitmen had a 22-13-0-1 record over that span.
The one area where Calgary stood out ahead of the Broncos was goal scoring. They scored 60 more goals than the Broncos in the regular season. The Hitmen scored 6 or more goals in 10 of their last 36 games, but Swift Current only managed to do it 4 times over that same span.
“They’ve got a lot more offence than we do,” Lamb said. “We’ve played pretty well against teams like that. One of our strengths is playing away from the puck. We’re going to have to really fine tune it and play like that in the playoffs. That’s what playoff hockey is all about.”
“You have to score timely goals, you need some big plays out of different players… not just the guys who have done it all year long… and you have to have strong goaltending.”
The series is a battle of the goaltenders with the 6th and 7th best goals against averages in the WHL. Eetu Laurikainen went 30-23-2-4 for Swift Current with a 2.40 GAA and 0.922 save percentage. He faces Ottawa Senators draft pick Chris Driedger who went 36-14-1-3 with a 2.51 GAA and 0.915 save percentage.
Another factor in the series could be depth. No matter how you measure it Calgary has more scoring throughout their lineup with eleven players who have produced at least 30 points versus only eight for the Broncos, or three players to have scored over 30 goals versus only one for Swift Current.
“(They have) a real good top six forwards,” said Broncos forward Ryon Moser. “We’re going to have to do our best to shut them down. They’ve got a lot of skill up front, their D are pretty big and solid too. They’re pretty solid throughout. We’re going to have to wear them down, play our game, stick to our system… I think that will give us a good chance.”
Moser is one of seven players on the Broncos who are from the area around Calgary. In Total Swift Current has fourteen players on their roster who call Alberta home. That will ensure there is at least a sizable Broncos cheering section during games 1 and 2 on the road.
The Hitmen are actually a rare team with a slightly worse record at home than on the road, but they are well above .500 no matter where they play.
Special teams should favour the Broncos as they are 5th in the league on the power play and 6th on the penalty kill. Calgary sits 11th and 9th. However, the Broncos have slipped on the man advantage over the last two months, dropping from 2nd in the league to 5th.
“It was struggling for a few games,” Moser said. “We’ve been working on it in practice trying a few different things… we’re working it around better and that’s something that’s got to be huge for us in playoffs.”
In general goal scoring may be at a premium as the Broncos allowed the second fewest goals in the Eastern Conference and Calgary sat third in that same stat. Swift Current will be hoping Eastern Conference First Team All-Star selection Adam Lowry can continue his regular season pace into the playoffs. Lowry scored 7 points in 4 games against Calgary and had 88 in total.
Calgary is led offensively by 90 point man Cody Sylvester, 80 point man Brooks Macek and 78 point man Brady Brassart. Lowry is Swift Current’s only player over 60 points, but Graham Black and Calgary Flames draft pick Coda Gordon come close.
Reece Scarlett leads the way for the Bronocs in scoring from their defencemen. He had 49 points this season, equalling Calgary’s top scoring defenceman Alex Roach. Spencer Humphries and Jaynen Rissling put up 38 and 28 points for Calgary, while Richared Nedomlel and Dillon Heatherington answered with 28 and 27 for Swift Current.
The series showcases the top two picks of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft. Calgary took forward Jake Virtanen first overall and the Broncos followed by selecting defenceman Brycen Martin. Both players have blossomed into bigger roles in the second half of the season and could have significant impacts in the playoffs.
The Hitmen and Broncos are also two of the more physical teams in the league. The Broncos were second in the WHL with 76 fights and Calgary came right in behind them with 75. They play similar styles and are connected behind the bench as Lamb was an assistant to Hitmen Coach Mike Williamson for Team Canada at the World U18 tournament in 2011.
Calgary certainly has an edge in playoff experience. There are still some players left on the roster from the 2010 WHL Championship they won and a lot of the roster was part of a first round loss to Brandon last season. The Broncos only have four players on the roster with any even limited WHL playoff experience and one of them, Brent Benson, won’t be in the lineup due to injury.
The two clubs have met three times before in WHL playoff action with Calgary winning twice. The last series was a 4-2 win for Calgary in the 2008 Eastern Conference semi-final.
Games 1 and 2 are in Calgary on Thursday and Friday. The series shifts to Swift Current next Monday and Tuesday. Tickets are on sale now.
You can hear each game of the series live on The Eagle 94.1 with The New Pioneer Co-op Home Centre Broncos Hockey at 6:30pm.