Courtesy: Canadian Hockey League
A standout 2016-17 season saw Tyler Steenbergen establish himself as an elite CHL goal-scorer, drawing attention from the Arizona Coyotes who selected him in the fifth round of the 2017 NHL Draft.
The first Bronco to surpass the 50-goal plateau since Jeremy Williams back in 2004, Steenbergen helped put Swift Current back on the map after eight years deprived of a playoff series victory. The club’s first round pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft helped push the Broncos past their in-province rival the Moose Jaw Warriors in seven games before taking the heavily favoured Regina Pats to the brink in the second round, coming up just short on the road in Game 7.
A native of Sylvan Lake, Alberta, Steenbergen’s stock has only continued to rise this season as he leads the WHL in scoring with 35 points including 21 goals and 14 assists over 14 contests.
“I think my game has taken some pretty big strides,” said Steenbergen, who models his game after Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson. “Personal success is secondary to team achievements though, and it’s been great to see Swift Current really get behind us after the fun we had in the playoffs last year.
“I think the team and the city really feed off each other. It’s an exciting time to play for the Broncos.”
Among the Canadian Hockey League’s smallest communities with no more than 17,000 residents, Swift Current will host Game 2 of the CIBC Canada Russia Series on Tuesday, a game that will feature two hometown stars in Steenbergen and Russian defender Artyom Minulin lined up across the ice.
While the two Broncos teammates have formed a friendship over their three years together, that all gets put aside when Canada and Russia go head-to-head.
“He’s had to work on his English a lot, but we have a lot of fun,” said Steenbergen of Minulin. “He has a great sense of humour. He can dish it out and he can take it,” he added with a laugh.
Playing in Swift Current has been quite an experience for Steenbergen, who recently had his own cheeseburger, aptly titled the “Steenburger” added to the concession stands at the Credit Union iPlex. The small-town feel has its benefits.
“Being here since I was 16-years-old, it’s been rewarding to see the steps we have taken as a team,” he reflected. “This is the kind of town where it’s so small that everyone knows each other. People recognize me on the street and want to talk about the game from last night, so I don’t think it’s the typical environment and definitely not something that every WHL player gets to experience.”
The Broncos are off to a 10-3-1-0 start in a competitive East Division that also includes rival Moose Jaw and the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup host Regina Pats. Swift Current hasn’t won an East Division title since 2001, but with talented forwards in Florida Panthers prospect Aleksi Heponiemi and St. Louis Blues pick Glenn Gawdin riding shotgun with Steenbergen, getting back to the top seems like an attainable goal.
“Our main objective is to be a part of things in Regina come May,” noted Steenbergen. “That’s our team mentality right now. Manny Viveiros has us playing really good hockey to start the year and the challenge will be to keep this momentum going.
“I think we have the right guys in our room to take us to where we want to be.”
Unlike many of his Team WHL teammates, Steenbergen has yet to represent Canada internationally and wasn’t among the 16 WHL players in attendance at Hockey Canada’s Summer Showcase this past August.
He’s treating Monday and Tuesday’s games as a showcase opportunity with Hockey Canada looking on.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to represent Canada before, but I’ve always wanted to,” he said. “It’s a goal I have been working toward and it’s been something in the back of my mind.
“You hear it all the time, but it’s what every kid dreams of.”
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.