Andy Devlin

2018-19 WHL season previews: Swift Current Broncos

LAST SEASON RECAP
It was 25 years in the making as the Swift Current Broncos hoisted the WHL Championship cup last May. Individually and collectively, the Broncos had a spectacular season, pumping out some of the top players in the league who joined forces to win the Ed Chynoweth cup. The last time the Swift Current hockey team were able to win the championship was during the 1992-1993 season with a win over the Portland Winterhawks. Last season, the Broncos brought the town of Swift Current together again to celebrate their WHL win on home ice against the Everett Silvertips.

Glenn Gawdin led the way with 125 points overall in the regular season, putting him at 2nd place, just behind Jayden Halbgewachs of the Moose Jaw Warriors who had 129 points. Tyler Steenbergen landed in 6th place in WHL points during the Broncos regular season with 102. Aleksi Heponiemi held onto a firm 3rd place in points during the regular season with 118 points. Colby Sissons made quite an impact on defense for the Swift Current team, earning 13 goals and 58 assists to give him 3rd place of all defensive players overall in the regular season. Add to that a mix of Josh Anderson and Sahvan Khaira on defense, Beck Malenstyn, Matteo Gennaro, and Giorgio Estephan up front, and Stuart Skinner in net and that led the team to a WHL Championship win for the first time in over two decades.

Glenn Gawdin has moved on to take part in the Calgary Flames training camp, where he has 2 goals and 2 assists so far. Tyler Steenbergen, who scored the “golden goal” for Team Canada in the World Juniors Championship last year, is playing for the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL. Matteo Gennaro will also be part of the Roadrunners alongside Steenbergen. Aleksi Heponiemi has moved on from the WHL and signed a contract to play for Karpat in the Liiga league in Finland. Stuart Skinner, after making an appearance at training camp for the Edmonton Oilers, will play for the AHL Bakersfield Condors. Beck Malenstyn is playing for the Hershey Bears, the Washington Capitals AHL affiliate team. Colby Sissons signed with the New Jersey Devils while playing with the Broncos and is now with the Binghamton Devils. Josh Anderson has moved on to the Colorado Eagles and Giorgio Estephan is playing with the Toronto Marlies.

Sahvan Khaira was dealt to the Everett Silvertips prior to the start of the season.

The front office also saw a mass exodus as Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Manny Viveiros left to join the Edmonton Oilers as an assistant coach.

Director of Hockey Operations Jamie Porter was passed over for the general manager job and then he left to join the Edmonton Oil Kings as Director of Scouting.

Associate Coach Ryan Smith left to join the Medicine Hat Tigers and Assistant Coach Jamie Heward left to take a spot with the Vancouver Giants.

Because the Broncos went all-in last season to make a deep playoff run, it was known that there would be issues that would pop up during the 2018-2019 season. Now is the time to address those issues. And they won’t be easy to deal with.

2001-born defenseman Jacson Alexander was also moved to the Edmonton Oil Kings, reuniting with Porter.

Kole Gable and Logan Foster were two other veterans that did not return for Swift Current.

All in all, 14 players who were on their roster in the WHL playoffs will not be back for the Broncos.

RETURNING PLAYERS
With the departure of the Broncos first line, defensive core, and other impact players, it’s safe to say that Swift Current is going through a rebuilding year. But not all was lost as some familiar faces returned to the ice during training camp to start the 2018-2019 season. Veteran players Kaden Elder, Tanner Nagel, Andrew Fyten, and Artyom Minulin have returned for another season with the Broncos as well as some other younger faces. Mackenzie Wight, Ben King, Ethan Regnier, Max Patterson, Noah King, and Joel Hofer will be depended on to carry the team through a new season.

Mackenzie Wight played 55 regular season games and 20 playoff games with Swift Current last year and notched 4 points and 60 shots on net. Ben King made his debut with the Broncos last season, making an appearance in 7 regular season games and then taking part in 3 preseason games. Ethan Regnier played in 56 regular season games with Swift Current last season, earning 2 goals and 6 assists. Noah King also made an impact in Swift Current last year, suiting up for 65 regular season games and getting 56 shots on net and 29 penalty minutes. Joel Hofer has recently been sent back to Swift Current from the St. Louis Blues training camp. In 19 appearances in net last season, Hofer earned a save percentage of 0.914 and a GAA of 2.61 with 8 wins.

OVERAGE PLAYERS
The Swift Current Broncos have quite the dilemma on their hands with 5 overage players on the roster right now. WHL teams are only allowed to have 3 overage players on the active roster and, as of now, Swift Current has Kaden Elder, Tanner Nagel, Andrew Fyten, Ryan Pouliot, and Artyom Minulin. As well, the Broncos have yet to name a new captain with the departure of last years captain, Glenn Gawdin.

Kaden Elder played 67 regular season games with Swift Current last season and amassed 32 points. He also made an impact in 26 playoff games earning three goals and six assists. Tanner Nagel was traded to Swift Current last season before the trade deadline and played 22 regular season games with the Broncos before playoffs. In 26 playoff games, he earned one goal and one assist. Andrew Fyten was another player acquired before the trade deadline last season and he played 29 regular games with the Swift Current team. In 25 playoff games, Fyten garnered six points. Minulin was a solid defenseman during the regular season last year with 13 goals and 30 assists under his belt in 64 regular season games. The newest member of the team, Ryan Pouliot is a solid blue liner that defends the net by any means possible. He earned 10 points in 64 games last season with Kootenay before being claimed off waivers by the Broncos.

Kaden Elder (Darwin Knelson)

NEW PLAYERS AND STAFF
It’s a rebuilding season and with that comes a long list of new players. With the departure of many veteran players, Swift Current will be looking to fill a lot of gaps. Manny Viveiros stepped away from the WHL to take on a new role in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. This left the position of head coach and general manager open for Dean Brockman. Also, Brandin Cote and Scott Dutertre were hired to fill the gaps of assistant coaches while Gary Aubin was hired as director of player personnel and Dave Rathjen was hired as the new goalie coach.

The Broncos entire first forward line left Swift Current after the playoff run, which means Swift Current will be looking for some skilled pieces to the puzzle up front. 17-year-old Matthew Culling was traded to Swift Current during the off-season and made an impact at training camp this season. He is a smaller, shifty forward with solid offensive skills. If he can progress this season, he has the potential to be an impact forward on the Broncos. Ethan O’Rourke was part of the trade that sent Sahvan Khaira to the Everett Silvertips. 19-year-old O’Rourke is 6-foot-5 and brings experience and strength to a depleted forward core. In 37 games with the Prince George Cougars last season, he earned 14 points. He was traded to Everett mid-season last year and played 29 regular season games with the Silvertips, obtaining four points and one playoff goal in 18 post-season games. Alec Zawatsky was a late pick-up during the preseason. Zawatsky made his way to Swift Current to take part on the front line for part of the preseason for the Broncos, where he has made an immediate impact, playing in 2 games and earning a goal. This 18-year-old forward played 43 regular season games with the Saskatoon Blades last season and notched eight points. He’s not a big player, but he’s quick on his feet. With the abundance of skilled players that have returned to the Broncos offense or have been added to the roster, it seems there is hope for Swift Current to have a successful season.

On defense, the Broncos lost some heavy hitters and solid blue liners. But the newer additions have the potential to fill in those defensive gaps. Ryan Pouliot, who came to Swift Current after being claimed off waivers from the Kootenay ICE is a 20-year-old d-man who played 64 regular season games with Kootenay last season, earning 10 points and 61 penalty minutes. Together with his brother, Sam Pouliot, who was acquired during the off-season by Swift Current, Ryan could be part of a solid defensive pairing. Sam Pouliot was acquired from Red Deer during the off-season and stands 6-foot-1 at 18 years old. If Sam can develop throughout the 2018-2019 season, he has the potential to see a lot of minutes on the Broncos defense. With Joel Hofer in net the Broncos have a solid netminder. Hofer was a good backup goalie last season who proved his worth as second in net behind Stuart Skinner. Backing up Hofer this season will be Isaac Poulter. Poulter, who was drafted by the Broncos in 2016, was called up late last season as a third goalie. This year, he made an appearance at training camp and played in two preseason games where he earned a 0.9075 save percentage and allowed 8 goals throughout those two games.

IMPORT PLAYERS
Aleksi Heponiemi signed a contract in Finland for the 2018-2019 season instead of remaining in the WHL. This opened up a spot on the Swift Current Broncos roster for another import player. But with only two roster spots open and three import players on the team, the Broncos organization has a tough decision ahead.

Joona Kiviniemi is a 16-year-old forward from Finland who was selected in the 2018 CHL import draft. This 6-foot-1 player knows how to read plays well and has good positioning in front of the opposition’s net. He notched three shots on net in two preseason games with the Broncos.

Roope Pynnonen is 5-foot-10 and originally from Finland. He was drafted by the Broncos in the second round of the 2018 CHL import draft. He is a much-needed two-way player that has played two preseason games with the Broncos so far.

The return of Artyom Minulin means the Swift Current Broncos have three import players and five overage players on their roster. This 6-foot-2 Russian import has been a reliable defenseman for the Broncos for three seasons and he continually gets better each year. With 43 points in 64 regular season games and 8 points in 20 playoff games last season with the Broncos, Minulin solidified his place among the solid defensive core. He’s experienced, reliable, and he made his mark on the Swift Current blue line over the past few seasons.

Artyom Minulin

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Matthew Culling is a 17-year-old forward who came to Swift Current as part of the Jacson Alexander trade. Culling played 5 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings last season before the trade. He’s a naturally skilled player who earned two goals and one assist during the Broncos preseason. He reads plays well and seems to be in the right place at the right time in order to help make plays happen for his team.

Colum McGauley was acquired during the off-season from the Kelowna Rockets. This 18-year-old forward from Wilcox, SK has some impressive natural skating ability and he isn’t afraid to dig in the corners even though he’s only 5-foot-10. Being of smaller stature, he seems to work a little harder and earn his place on the team. His development over this season could be his key to success in hockey.

Max Patterson, the towering 6-foot-4 winger took part in 72 games with the Broncos last season, garnering 9 goals and 15 assists. In 26 playoff games, he earned five goals and two assists. He returned to training camp with the Broncos this year, and notched two assists during his preseason games. Max is not a small player, but he looked bigger, stronger, and more refined during the preseason and he will be an asset to the rebuilding Swift Current Broncos.

Max Patterson (Photo-David Zammit)

Connor Horning is a player with an abundance of skill and he is still developing. This 6-foot-3, 17-year-old defensive force played 50 regular season games and 12 playoff games with the Broncos last season and earned seven points. He’s an imposing blue liner with the potential to become a solid two-way player. This could be his breakout season in the WHL.

This season will see a lot of growth and development out of the young Swift Current team. There is a lot of natural skill that has been brought in and a lot of experience among the veteran players that will help the Swift Current Broncos succeed this year. Will the newer players make a difference and stay with the team or will they be used as trade pieces? Will the Broncos make a deep playoff run? Will they even make the post-season? These are all questions that will take time to answer. But with all the new talent and veteran experience, don’t be surprised if this new team gives the WHL something to talk about in the coming months.

The Broncos regular season starts Friday, September 21st at the Swift Current iPlex. There will be a banner-raising ceremony before the puck drop to honour and celebrate last season’s WHL Championship team.

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