Wednesday, 02 April 2014 13:08

Broncos ousted in heartbreaking fashion

Written by  Brad Brown
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The Cats from The Hat had one more trick up their sleeves on Sunday night.


After Thing 1 (Trevor Cox’s three-point effort) and Thing 2 (Chad Butcher’s third game-winning goal of the series) pushed the Swift Current Broncos to the brink of elimination in Game 5 of their WHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal, the Medicine Hat Tigers deferred to lesser-known Thing 3 (Chad Labelle) to put the series away.
With under three minutes to play in Game 6 at the Credit Union iplex, the 18-year-old skated untouched into the low slot and smacked a loose puck past a helpless Eetu Laurikainen for his first career playoff goal and gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
A late-game push proved fruitless and the Broncos dropped their second straight first-round series, falling this year in six games to the Tigers after a five-game loss to the Calgary Hitmen last year.
“I thought we played good down the stretch and played good this series and good just doesn’t cut it, simple as that,” said Broncos head coach and general manager Mark Lamb. “You have to play better than good. You have to have lots of players that progress as the series goes on and you get shut down. You have to have certain guys do the scoring and certain guys do the checking and we came up short.”
A few guys were more than just good for the Broncos.
Overage goalie Eetu Laurikainen ended his WHL career in style, stopping 208 of 221 shots in the series — many of the saves in typically highlight-reel fashion.
Fellow 20-year-old Nathan Burns, acquired from Saskatoon on New Year’s Day, looked like he might win the entire series by himself. The fifth-year centre scored or assisted on each of the Broncos’ first five goals as well as their last of the season Sunday.
And Jake DeBrusk, the 17-year-old rookie, left tongues wagging with three goals of his own including the winners in Games 3 and 4 at home.
But at the end of the series the Tigers’ best players were just plain better than the Broncos’ best players.
Swift Current’s top defence pair of Dillon Heatherington and Julius Honka was on the ice for eight of the nine goals scored by the Tigers’ top line of Cox, Curtis Valk and Cole Sanford.
At the other end of the ice, captain Colby Cave, Coda Gordon and Jay Merkley had only a handful of decent scoring chances and couldn’t buy a goal after combining for 93 in the regular season.
“I was happy with the play of all those guys,” said Lamb. “And I was happy with how our whole team played. Could certain individuals have done better at certain times, absolutely, but that’s every game and every series. Those guys played hard. And last night (in Game 5), Cave was probably our best offensive player.”
For their part on Sunday, Medicine Hat’s veteran D corps limited those chances both with their own strong possession game and by disrupting the Broncos’ zone entries, forcing them to dump and chase just a little too much.
When Swift Current did manage to gain the Tigers’ zone, too many times it ended with a forced shot straight into the legs of the Medicine Hat defenders or a weak shot on net by a lone attacker.
Laurikainen stopped 38 shots in the loss while his counterpart Marek Langhamer made 30 saves for the win.
“I’m far more disappointed this year than I was last year in terms of how far this team has come and how hard the team played,” said Lamb. “When you see how competitive it was and how close it was, it’s so disheartening not to take that next step … this could be one of the best learning experiences for our organization but it’s also one of the most disappointing because you could see we could compete with them.”

FACTBOX
Game 1 – March 21 – Swift Current 1 @ Medicine Hat 2
Game 2 – March 22 – Swift Current 2 @ Medicine Hat 4
Game 3 – March 25 – Medicine Hat 1 @ Swift Current 3
Game 4 – March 26 – Medicine Hat 2 @ Swift Current 3 (OT)
Game 5 – March 29 – Swift Current 1 @ Medicine Hat 4
Game 6 – March 30 – Medicine Hat 2 @ Swift Current 1

 

Head coach/GM Mark Lamb shared some thoughts as well after Sunday’s game on his departing over-age players.
Graham Black — Blackie was a guy who came out of nowhere, really improved and turned into our leading scorer. For our organization he was such a big part of it, and even more so after going through what he did and improving to become a drafted player after he missed the draft the first year he was eligible.
Eetu Laurikainen — Eetu has been probably the most valuable piece we’ve ever had in my time here. We had such big problems in goaltending, and he really came in and solidified it. He made the team believe they could be a winner. Eetu is such a good guy, but he’s also probably the biggest piece we put together in there.
Nathan Burns — Mr. Dependable. Without him, I’m honestly not sure where this team would be. Other teams improved at the deadline and got better, and we had to do the same. We had a chance to miss the playoffs without him, without a doubt.

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