Courtesy: Western Hockey League
Hockey talk and a cup of coffee may as well be a Canadian pastime by this point.
If Manny Viveiros didn’t experience it before, he has now since taking over the head coaching reins of the Swift Current Broncos in 2016. In a town of Swift Current’s size, it’s hard for Viveiros to go anywhere and not be recognized, especially at his favourite coffee stop on the way into the rink where he hears from an unofficial team of scouts every morning.
“There’s a certain group of guys there that are avid Broncos fans and let you know their opinion, which I find absolutely wonderful,” Viveiros noted. “It’s good when you see the passion that’s involved in that community.”
Yes, there’s nothing quite like hockey in Speedy Creek.
There’s also not many junior hockey markets across Canada like Swift Current, where the population has yet to exceed 20,000 people. That’s what makes Tuesday’s second game in the 2017 CIBC Canada Russia Series such a draw for hockey enthusiasts and the casual observer.
“Anytime you go out into the community, people know who you are and are very polite and friendly every time,” said Viveiros, who has the Broncos contending the Eastern Conference for a second straight season.
What Swift Current lacks in size compared to other WHL markets, they make up for in atmosphere, where the community rallies around their team and will try to provide the same down-home feel to 20 of Western Canada’s best junior-aged hockey players to the Credit Union I-Plex Tuesday.
Viveiros will be on the bench in his home rink as usual, though this time as an assistant to Team WHL head coach Tim Hunter. For both teams, they’ll get a chance to experience what a hockey night in Swift Current is really like.
“Swift Current is passionate about their sports and this is such a big event and a big stage across Canada,” Viveiros added. “Our organization is doing everything they can to make it first-class for everybody.”
The experience will be foreign to some, but will be welcomed by a quartet that includes Viveiros.
That group includes current Broncos Tyler Steenbergen and Russian defenceman Artyom Minulin, but also includes Kelowna Rockets forward Kole Lind, a prospect of the Vancouver Canucks who was born in nearby Shaunavon, Sask. and is itching to return to the rink he grew up playing in.
“Everyone’s always there to support you,” Lind said. “It’ll definitely be cool to be back there and definitely give back what they contributed to me in my younger years.”
Lind’s hockey career is still in its infancy, but given his production and development, it’s hard not to think of him as the next big thing to come from the southwest Saskatchewan town that produced WHL Alumni Rhett Warrener and Braydon Coburn, as well as decorated Olympic hockey champion Hayley Wickenheiser.
Growing up with Saskatchewan winters and a passion for hockey, Lind’s prized memories include getting to the outdoor rink as quick as possible after school in order to maximize playing time.
As recent as 2013, Lind was still playing the majority of his games at the I-Plex, reminiscing about scoring a big overtime goal at the arena and relishing the opportunity to play the hero in his home rink once again.
“It’s moved so quickly, it’s crazy,” Lind said of his quick progression through the hockey ranks. “You think about it, it feels like yesterday I was playing back in Swift Current at the I-Plex and now I’m going to play for Team WHL there so it’s definitely a cool feeling.
“It’ll be a really special feeling just to get back there.”
Besides Tuesday’s game and a trip back in December, Lind won’t get a chance to be at home during the entirety of the regular season and what he hopes is a lengthy playoff run.
After a strong win against Russia Monday in Moose Jaw for the series opener, Lind was expecting a strong pushback in the second game, meaning all 20 members of Team WHL will be on high-alert, though the focus for Lind still included enjoying every minute back inside his home rink.
“I definitely see a lot more familiar faces in the crowd,” Lind added. “I think it makes it a little easier for me to play in front of them. I know what it’s like to play in front of them, I’ve done it before.”
From coaches to players and every other member of Swift Current in-between, hockey isn’t just a game, it’s treated as its own language through the town’s limits, a team fans young and old all have fond memories and a razor sharp knowledge of.
To opposing players it may be a stop on the Trans-Canada and a tough building to play in. To opposing fans, it’s a town that will welcome you with open arms, so long as you don’t take two points with you on your way out the door.
To Viveiros and Lind, it’s much more than that; it’s home.
Tuesday’s Game 2 from Swift Current gets underway at 6:00pm CST/8:00pm EST and can be seen on Sportsnet Ontario, East and Sportsnet ONE.