So far it would seem the Broncos are underdogs heading into the start of their playoff series against Calgary. Most predictions I’ve read in the press or from fans online have Calgary winning the series in 5 or 6 games. I get that. The Hitmen finished 18 points ahead of the Broncos and scored 60 more goals than Swift Current in the regular season. Calgary is considered by some to be a “legit” title contender, while the Broncos are viewed more as a darkhorse. It’s natural for those reasons and several others that some people will favour Calgary.
That said, you shouldn’t sleep on the Broncos. Leading up the playoffs I asked Warriors broadcaster James Gallo, Wheat Kings broadcaster Bruce Luebke and Pats broadcaster Phil Andrews who they thought might surprise somebody in the playoffs… and they all said Swift Current. We’ve been hearing all season long about how teams/hockey people respect the way the Broncos play and don’t want to play them. That’s not enough to make Swift Current a lower seeded favourite… but could they win? Absolutely they could and I’ve highlighted a few reasons why…
Record vs. Calgary: The Broncos won the season series with Calgary 3-1. I’ve found sometimes the head-to-head record can be a bit deceiving especially with such a small sample size. That said, the Broncos have certainly proven they can not only play with but beat the very tough Hitmen several times this season. They held a 3-1 lead for 40+ minutes in the last game between the two teams, while each other game in the season series was very tight and well played. If the Broncos are able to get a game 1 win they could start to get in Calgary’s heads a little bit.
Second Half Record: The Hitmen did finish 18 points ahead of the Broncos in the standings and had 10 more wins than Swift Current… there is no denying that and what it means to how consistently well Calgary played this season. However, the Broncos and Hitmen have close to an identical record in the second half. Calgary went 22-13-0-1 in the second half and the Broncos went 21-13-0-2. That adds up to only a one point difference between the two clubs in the second half.
Was it a matter of a light just going on for the Broncos in the second half? It’s worth remembering how many times back then we talked about their trouble in one-goal games. They won only 5 of their first 20 one-goal games and learned a lot from that experience that they carried into the second half.
Play Against Good Teams: The Broncos may sit only 6th in the Eastern Conference, but they have proven they can compete with the best teams in the WHL all season. I focused specifically on the Eastern Conference when I compiled a record for the Broncos against the teams ahead of them in the standings. They went 12-13-1-2 combined against 5th place Prince Albert, 4th place Red Deer, 3rd place Calgary, 2nd place Saskatoon and 1rst place Edmonton. That includes at least one win against each team. Over that time they actually outscored their opponents 76-73. My point? The Broncos have proven all season long they can compete with the best teams in the WHL and you can’t really view them as just a 6th seed. They’ve made life difficult on those top teams all season long and this series shouldn’t be any different.
Defensive Play: The Hitmen absolutely have more offensive depth in their lineup. That said, the Broncos are one of the top defensive teams in the conference. They allowed the second least number of goals behind only Edmonton and were able to do that without as much offensive depth to keep teams pinned in their own zone the way an Edmonton or Calgary could at times. Swift Current plays away from the puck as well as any other team in the league and only got better as the season went on. They cut their goals against from 100 in the first half to 93 in the second half. The Broncos have a big, savvy defensive corps who block a ton of shots and play with forwards who have become more and more committed to team defence.
Calgary is a very good defensive team as well. They only allowed 11 more goals than Swift Current while scoring 60 more. However, Calgary’s goals against actually got worse in the second half as they allowed 93 in the first 36 games and 111 in the second 36. I know the Hitmen went through some injuries on the back end so that could account for some of that change.
Special Teams: While Calgary has been ahead of the Broncos in the standings all season, Swift Current has always had better special teams. Their power play finished ranked 5th in the league and their penalty kill finished 6th. Calgary finished 11th on the PP and 9th on the PK. The Broncos actually killed off every power play opportunity the Hitmen had against them in the regular season series. You can’t expect that to continue, but it’s a good sign. The one concern for the Broncos is that their power play slid in the last two months of the season from 2nd in the league to 5th and had some nights where they were particularly ineffective. They’ve made some strides as of late and certainly have the talent and system to make teams pay if they take penalties.
Underrated Depth: The Broncos may not score as much as Calgary, but they still have three lines that can produce. Recently Swift Current has had a third line that includes Colby Cave and Levi Bews. Both guys scored 21 goals this season. No one line they have can be as dangerous as Calgary putting together three guys who scored 30+ goals this season, but Swift Current has been able to spread their offence out and give them competitive match-ups throughout their lineup. If you try to shut down Adam Lowry, which is hard enough as it is, you still have a dynamic Moser/Black/Gordon line to deal with or that Dale/Cave/Bews line with a couple guys who have scored over 20 goals. The Broncos may not score a ton but they aren’t a thin or entirely top heavy lineup either.
Eetu: It’s playoff time and this is the time of year more than any other when a goaltender can steal you a series. Laurikainen and Driedger are both elite goaltenders so I’m not suggesting it’s a clear advantage. However, if you’re asking how could the Broncos win a show stealing performance by Laurikainen is certainly a possibility. I don’t know if any goaltender has made more highlight reel saves or stolen more sure goals than Eetu has this season. He does all that and is incredibly consistent. A goaltender capable of stealing a series and putting his team on his back is just one of several reasons why you can’t count the Broncos out.
Those are just a few of several reasons why you shouldn’t count the Broncos out against Calgary. I didn’t even mention the fact that the Broncos are led by one of the best forwards (Lowry) and one of the best defencemen (Scarlett) in the league… because I know Calgary has some great players on their side soon. That said, any of those elite guys could really step up and take over a series.
I’m not saying they absolutely will win or they absolutely won’t, but there is plenty here to suggest the Broncos at least have a good shot. Calgary is a great team and a deep team. They will present a huge challenge and it will be fun to see if the Broncos are up for it.
The action starts tonight at 6:30pm live from Calgary with The New Pioneer Co-op Home Centre Broncos Hockey on The Eagle 94.1 FM. Don’t forget games 3 and 4 are set for Swift Current on Monday and Tuesday. I know the roads are bad and the snow won’t go away in southwest Saskatchewan so tune us in on the radio or click here to listen live on the internet to our broadcast tonight. Saddle up!