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Wednesday, 20 February 2013 13:27

McCleary, Holt get the butterflies again

Written by  Brad Brown
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Unlike the last time Todd Holt and Trent McCleary had worn Swift Current Broncos uniforms on home ice, there were no mixed emotions about their on-ice reunion Saturday.

Just excitement, even if some it was of the nervous kind.
“I think some of those guys could squish me flat,” said a laughing McCleary in the lead-up to the Rider Pride Hockey Challenge, which pitted a team of Broncos alumni against a Saskatchewan Roughriders squad that included several offensive and defensive linemen.
Saturday’s game marked the first time in almost 20 years McCleary and Holt had shared the ice as teammates at the Credit Union iplex.
Last time out it was May 1993 and they were celebrating — sort of — a decisive, title-clinching win over Portland in Game 7 of the WHL championship series.
“It was unbelievable,” said Holt. “You’re standing there looking at each other, you’ve got tears in your eyes and guys going ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it.’
“Then you had guys, the veterans, the Trent McClearys, going ‘We’re not done yet, this is one step, just another step.’ You’ve got a thousand emotions.”
McCleary’s were driven primarily by what he’d seen with the Broncos four years earlier, when he played just three regular season games as Swift Current won not just the league but the Memorial Cup national championship too.
“That wasn’t my team,” he said. “It was (Dan) Lambert’s and (Sheldon) Kennedy’s and (Tim) Tisdale’s, and that’s fine. I wanted to be the guy getting presented the trophy, but I didn’t touch that thing because it wasn’t my time.
“I knew we would get our chance but in 1989 I was a spare part and it definitely left me with some drive thinking that’s where we want to get to.”
The 1992-93 Broncos earned their chance to get there due in no small part to the returns of Tyler Wright, Andy Schneider and McCleary from the professional ranks as well a mid-season trade with Prince Albert for Dean McAmmond.
Swift Current ended the season with a league-leading 49 wins, 100 points and 384 goals scored.
Holt scored 56 times that year, a career high.
“I think it was right before Christmas we had an 11 or 12-game winning streak and I remember that streak like it was yesterday because when you pulled up to the rink there were people standing outside just saying hello,” said Holt.
“And when you went into the dressing room there were no hard, intense looks because everyone was having so much fun. We had a feeling that we were going to win every night.”
Beneficiaries of a first-round bye, Swift Current dispatched Medicine Hat in a six-game quarterfinal and swept Regina in the semifinal to set up the championship series with Portland.
The Broncos’ Game 7 win made them, to date, the last Saskatchewan team to win the Western Hockey League.
“It was great,” said McCleary. “The only thing was we still had our eyes on the Memorial Cup.
“The league championship was just a step and you take it for granted because you have to turn the page, go to the Memorial Cup and win that, and that’s when you really celebrate. So there wasn’t the celebration you might have expected.”
A repeat of 1989 appeared possible when the Broncos knocked off the host Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in their tournament opener.
But Swift Current lost its next two in the round-robin and saw its season end May 21, 1993 with a 4-3 loss to Laval in the tiebreaker game.
McCleary went on to play 192 games in the National Hockey League but, with the benefit of hindsight, says getting sent back to Swift Current from the Ottawa Senators’ farm team in the fall of 1992 was the best thing that could have happened to him.
“Nothing beats winning and nothing beats winning with your friends. You look at the core of that team … and we all grew up together and we built that team from the ground up.”
For Holt, the early departure from the Memorial Cup was nothing more than an unfortunate and forgettable end to an otherwise unforgettable year.
“Winning the Western Hockey League with the team that I won with was ultimately the highlight of my career. I have so much respect and admiration for my teammates. With exhibition games and playoffs we played over 90 games. It’s a long run together.”

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