The Swift Current Broncos hit the holiday break as one of the true contenders in the WHL Eastern Conference.
They sit first in the East Division with a record of 20-13-1-4 and have scored 18 more goals than they’ve allowed over those 38 games. The Broncos also lead the conference in goals with 132.
“We’re very proud of where we’re at right now,” said Broncos Coach/GM Mark Lamb. “Obviously we want to keep on building.”
The Broncos went through a rebuilding process that kicked off when they traded captain Cody Eakin for 8 players or draft picks in the winter of 2011. During the rebuild Swift Current missed the playoffs for two straight seasons for the first time in franchise history.
Those down years allowed the Broncos to acquire assets like Colby Cave, Jordan Harris and Cavin Leth as a result of the Eakin trade, while also picking star talents like Dillon Heatherington, Brycen Martin and Glenn Gawdin near the top of the WHL Bantam Drafts.
Improvements in their drafting has filled out the roster with talents who have emerged even from later selections.
“The pieces that we’ve put together, the hard times we went through… we have a team we have so many good pieces,” Lamb noted. “We play hard every night and we do get the respect. I hear it every night I hear it from the hockey people.”
The Broncos complimented those additions by hitting a couple of home runs in the CHL Import Draft with goalie Eetu Laurikainen and defenceman Julis Honka from Finland. Lamb has also been able to add useful talents almost out of no where with free agents like Coda Gordon and Tanner Lesann, trading a conditional draft pick to Edmonton to acquire leading scorer Graham Black, sending a 4th round pick to Saskatoon for an emerging top four defenceman in Brett Lernout and finding top nine forwards Connor Sanvido and Andrew Johnson from Seattle in a deal for a mere 4th round draft pick.
While the likes of previous captains Taylor Vause and Adam Lowry are no longer a part of the roster, they and the rest of those teams were very important in the transition the Broncos were going through.
“Two years ago just after Christmas I think our team really started to play they way we’re trying to build,” Lamb said. “Now it’s just an every day thing. If you don’t play like that you know you’re not going to play and probably won’t play here very long.”
“I think we’re building a culture and the culture is going in the right direction.”
That build led Swift Current back to the playoffs last year as Lowry became the prototype for the team’s identity and won the Four Broncos Award as league MVP. Now they are hoping to take the next step as a group.
There are a lot of positive arrows for the Broncos now with four players scoring at a point per game clip or better, two players listed as ‘A’ level prospects by NHL Central Scouting, three defencemen with more than 20 points at the holiday break and one of the best one/two punches in goal with Laurikainen and sophomore Landon Bow.
After three seasons of hoarding their draft picks and building depth in their system, this Bronco team could be a buyer at the trade deadline. They already acquired veteran defenceman Stephen Shmoorkoff from Edmonton to give them some depth on the blue line, now Lamb would like to see if he can bolster their attack.
“To really make the Broncos a threat I think we need a top six (forward) that has some skill and can score goals,” Lamb said. “When I say that you’ll go oh well every team needs that, but that’s what we will be looking for.”
Could that mean a team that has been so careful to not deal away high end prospects and picks might be ready to dip into their talent reserve?
“We can make those trades but it’s not going to affect our future,” Lamb said. “If we make a trade like that it’s going to help our future. We have assets we can trade those, we have draft picks we can trade those, but the deal we are trying to make would help us in the future also.”
He envisions attempting to find a player who would still have a year or two left of eligibility and could be a part of strong Bronco clubs that would contend beyond this spring.
They were able to make a move like that last season by adding skilled winger Jay Merkley from Lethbridge in a deal for veteran Josh Derko and a draft pick.
The holiday break comes at a key time for Swift Current as only three other teams have played as many games as they have to this point. The amount of hockey has led to some key injuries with the likes of Gordon, Harris and Justin Spagrud out of their lineup and a roster full of banged up players. It also means they should have it a little easier in the second half.
“There’s nothing easy about it at all,” Lamb said. “That’s what we have to remember. This has been a tough go for us. There’s a couple other teams that have the same schedule and they’re feeling the effects also as we have, but going on forward it’s looking pretty positive.”
With over a week to rest and recover with their friends and family the Broncos are hoping to come back a refreshed group when they host Moose Jaw on December 27th.