By Taylor Rocca/WHL
When the puck drops Saturday afternoon at the Brandt Centre, it will mark the long-awaited return to the Mastercard Memorial Cup stage for two Canadian Hockey League regional champions.
For the storied Swift Current Broncos, winners of the Western Hockey League’s Ed Chynoweth Cup, it has been 25 long years since they made a trip to the CHL national stage, having last won the WHL title in 1993.
On the other side, the Acadie-Bathurst Titan return to the Mastercard Memorial Cup for the first time since 1999, having claimed the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s President Cup.
Though only a two-hour bus ride for the Broncos, the road to Regina was a long one for Swift Current. The Broncos needed a WHL-record 26 games to get through the 2018 WHL Playoffs, including seven games against the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup-host Regina Pats in the first round, another seven games against the WHL Regular Season Champion Moose Jaw Warrior in the second round, before closing out the post-season with consecutive six-game series against the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Everett Silvertips in the WHL’s Eastern Conference Championship and Ed Chynoweth Cup, respectively.
“It’s a huge opportunity for our team and for our city,” said Tyler Steenbergen, a prospect of the Arizona Coyotes and alternate captain for the Broncos. “They’re going to be behind us right where they were in Swift. It’s going to be pretty exciting to be here in Regina just two hours down the road.
“We’re in a great spot heading into the [Mastercard Memorial Cup] tournament. In the [WHL Championship Series] we were playing our best hockey. We’re excited to get going.”
Meanwhile, Bathurst, NB is a lengthy 3,600 kilometres from Saskatchewan’s capital city and while they didn’t need 26 games to become President Cup Champions, the Titan faced formidable foes before punching a ticket to the Queen City. After a six-game victory over the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Acadie-Bathurst swept the Sherbrooke Phoenix and Victoriaville Tigres before disposing of the high-powered Blaineville-Boisbriand Armada in six games to advance to the 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup.
“It was really nice to be able to win in front of our fans, they deserve it and they’ve been waiting a long time for that,” said Jeffrey Truchon-Viel, captain of the Titan and a prospect of the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda. “We’ve had a tough time the last couple years in Bathurst, but finally we have a Championship.
“[The Mastercard Memorial Cup] is higher stakes and a higher stage. We just want to focus on our team, on ourselves and go one game at a time.”
The 2018 dance marks the third franchise appearance for the Broncos, who last won the 1989 tournament, which happened to be hosted just north of Regina in Saskatoon. The only previous time the Titan made a trip to the Mastercard Memorial Cup, they finished without a win during the 1999 tournament in Ottawa, so Saturday afternoon marks an opportunity for a franchise first victory in the national spotlight.
Should the Broncos hope to repeat their 1989 championship on Saskatchewan home soil, their fate will rest heavily on the shoulders of Edmonton Oilers prospect Stuart Skinner. The 6-foot-4 goaltender, who hails from Edmonton, AB, re-wrote the WHL record book during Swift Current’s post-season run. The affable puck stopper set three WHL records and tied one other, including playing in a WHL-record 26 games, logging a WHL-record 1,609 minutes, and making a WHL-record 811 saves. Adding a cherry on top, he tied Dustin Slade’s WHL playoff record with six shutouts (2006 – Vancouver Giants).
Though he’s surrounded with an immense amount of veteran talent, 18-year-old defenceman Noah Dobson serves as a beacon from the backend for Acadie-Bathurst. The product of Summerside, PEI is ranked fifth among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting heading into the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas, having registered an impressive 69 points (17G-52A) through 67 regular season contest before adding another 13 points (3G-10A) in 20 playoff games.
“It’s a pretty exciting time to win the League,” Dobson said. “It’s what you work towards all season. To get a Championship and come here looking for another Championship, all the guys are excited and we’re looking forward to kicking off Saturday.
“We are real deep on the backend – one through six, any guys can be on the ice against other team’s top lines.”
While Dobson might cause problems for opponents in the defensive end of the rink, don’t sleep on him in the offensive zone as his speed and hockey IQ gives him the ability to creative opportunities with the puck.
Bringing MVP pedigree to Saturday’s showcase are Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin, a prospect of the Calgary Flames, and the aforementioned leader of the Titan, Truchon-Viel. Both serve as feel-good stories from the 2017-18 CHL season, having signed free-agent contracts with their respective pro clubs.
“We’re a deep team,” Gawdin said. “Throughout our lineup, we’re comfortable with everybody. Everybody can play goalie out – obviously we have a great goalie in Skinner. He’s a rock for us back there. Having that added confidence in net is huge.”
Gawdin lit up the Western League, rattling off an impressive 125 points (56G-69A) in 67 regular season games before adding another 32 points (14G-18A) to lead the Broncos in playoff scoring, earning WHL Playoff MVP recognition.
Meanwhile, Truchon-Viel posted 62 points (39G-23A) through 58 regular season contests before rattling off a team-leading 23 points (14G-9A) in 20 post-season outings to claim QMJHL Playoff MVP honours.
The 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup continues this afternoon in a game that can be seen from coast-to-coast on Sportsnet and TVA Sports. RJ Broadhead and Sam Cosentino will have the call when the puck drops at 2 p.m. MT/4 p.m. ET.
SWIFT CURRENT BRONCOS:
Reg. Season Record: 48-17-5-2-, 103 points (2nd East Division)
Goals For: 284 (3rd, WHL)
Goals Against: 213 (2nd, WHL)
Leading Scorer: Glenn Gawdin (56 GP, 56-69–125)
CHL Top 10 Best Ranking: 2nd (Weeks 4, 6, 7, 8)
CHL Top 10 Weeks Ranked: 23
Reg. Season Record: 43-15-8-2, 96 points (1st Maritimes Division)
Goals For: 270 (T-3rd)
Goals Against: 183 (3rd)
Leading Scorer: Antoine Morand (66 GP, 26-50–76)
CHL Top 10 Best Ranking: 6th (Week 26)
CHL Top 10 Weeks Ranked: 6