It’s been a tale of two seasons for 2001-born right-handed defenseman Connor Horning of the Swift Current Broncos. The six-foot-three, 198 pound blue liner joined the Broncos in time for their dream season in 2017-18.
He played in 50 regular season and 12 playoff games on the team that would go on to take the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champions for the first time in 23 seasons for the franchise.
Horning knew fairly early that the 2017-18 Broncos were a special team.
“We had a really good start. I think we won eight or nine in-a-row to start the year. So off the start, I think we exceeded or own expectations a little bit and surprised some people. After we made a couple trades there we started to see that we might be getting onto something. We saw that we were all-in and could not let it slip away. We had a lot of older guys and to learn from them and see how they did all that stuff,” Horning said.
Even as one of the younger guys on the team, Horning knew why the team was so successful and able to overcome any obstacle that was thrown at it.
“Everyone knew their role, whether it was the top or bottom guys – we all knew what we had to do.”
As a big defenseman, Horning was drawn to some of his older teammates and picked up a lot of the things that older, big blue liners like Josh Anderson, Sahvan Khaira, Colby Sissons and Artyom Minulin did every day.
“The way they practiced and prepared for games. Especially down the stretch in the playoffs just how they came and worked hard and wanted to get better everyday. They helped me out with a lot of little things. Whether it was little skills or tendencies that they helped me fix. They were leaders in that way too.”
Probably the highlight of the long playoff run for Horning was getting to be in the building for the clinching game of the WHL final. Game 6 in Swift Current was a loud one and up being a celebration for the whole city.
“It was really awesome. Right from the start of the game it was bumping in that arena. It’s a small rink so it doesn’t take much for it to get loud but it was by far the loudest I heard it throughout the whole playoff run. Then after the buzzer went, you kind of don’t remember it in a way because you black out – you are just running out on the ice after you accomplished something big.”
After helping take the WHL’s top prize, Horning got to play in one game in the Memorial Cup in Regina.
“It’s a tournament that I’ve been watching for some time on T.V. so it was special to be a part of it. To play a game was really cool. The tournament has a deep history so just to be a part of that was really cool.”
Growing up in Kelowna, Horning kept tabs on the WHL by following the hometown Rockets. Despite being so close to a WHL team, Horning was not certain he would choose Major Junior over the NCAA until after he was drafted.
He recalls a trip to Swift Current midway through the 2016-17 that swung him towards the Broncos and the WHL.
“They had a good system going here. (Head coach) Manny (Viveiros) was progressing in an upward position with them. They brought me up at Christmas too. I was here for five or six days after Christmas and that experience was awesome. Just to see how they prepared for games and to practice a few times – I fell in love with the city and decided to come here.”
After the dream season for the Broncos came to an end, Horning and the remaining players started to prepare for 2018-19. He knew that all of the older blue liners leaving town meant his role on the team was going to grow.
“I just had to work on all aspects of my game. My skating and conditioning especially to be prepared to play a bigger role this year. Also, to play a bigger leadership role too because at the moment I’m one of only three guys that were a part of the team last year which is crazy. I just needed to be prepared to show the rookies what it takes at this level.”
The 17-year-old d-man went from seven points last season to seven goals and 23 assists for 30 points this season. While the young team has struggled, Horning has seen a continued growth as the season has progressed.
“If you look at our game today as compared to the start of the season, we have come a long way, We are just building that chemistry for next year and the year after to push for a playoff spot and make a run. And to just gain experience for everyone. A lot of our younger guys are playing a lot and that will help them down the road.”
A season after Swift Current put up 48 wins, they have just 10. This is just a lesson in the cycle of the WHL. As the Broncos gear up for their next run, Horning, carrying his experiences from what it takes to win the league, will be leading the way.