Thursday, 22 May 2014 14:00

Former Broncos reflect on tremendous moment 25 years ago

Written by  Brad Brown
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The Swift Current Broncos ran roughshod over the Western Hockey League in 1988-89, winning 55 games — 13 more than the next best major junior team in Canada — and going 12-0 in the playoffs to win the WHL title.

They opened the Memorial Cup tournament on May 6, 1989 with a 6-4 win over the Ontario champion Peterborough Petes and beat the Quebec champions from Laval 6-5 the next night. On May 10 they lost 5-4 to the host Saskatoon Blades, forcing a tiebreaker against Peterborough which they won 6-2.
That brought them to the championship final against Saskatoon, where they led 2-0 before giving up three straight goals in the second and tying it up in the third on a goal from Kimbi Daniels.
Getting outshot 33-19 entering overtime, the Broncos got their break when Tim Tisdale got his stick on a centering pass and tipped the winning goal past Saskatoon goalie Mike Greenlay.
In the midst of so much uncertainty and tragedy — namely the 1986 bus crash that claimed the lives of four players and the then-unpublicized sex crimes of coach Graham James — flashed a moment of the purest joy, a real-life Hollywood ending.
May 13 marked the 25th anniversary of that moment.
Sharing their memories of the game 25 years later, here’s how it went down through the eyes of the five other Broncos who were on the ice when Tisdale scored: 17-year-old forward Brian Sakic, 17-year-old rookie winger Kyle Reeves, 19-year-old defenceman Bob Wilkie, 20-year-old defenceman Darren Kruger and his twin brother Trevor in goal.
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Bob Wilkie: Just to go to the start of overtime, we were pissed off that we were in that position in the first place. We all had that feeling that we knew we were going to win. That's how we learned how to achieve as a group. We always knew we could. So going in it was just a matter of who was going to do it.
Darren Kruger: That was definitely the case. To me that was the case all year. All year we didn't think we could lose any hockey games. Of course you're going to lose some games but we had a mentality that we couldn't lose.
Wilkie: We were betting a case of beer on who was going to score. Tim Tisdale, he'd made a mistake earlier in the game and he stood up in dressing room before overtime and said “Don’t worry boys, I've got this one.” It's one of most vivid memories of my hockey career.
Brian Sakic: He (Tisdale) was always like that. He took a lot of pride in his performance. He didn't like to make any mistakes. He's a perfectionist. That's why he got 160 [Ed. note: 139] points that year. He was always a very smart hockey player. If he put his mind to something, there was a pretty good chance he would get it done.
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Trevor Kruger: There are really two memories that I have. One, with about 1:20 left in the third period, Kevin Yellowaga was out in front and the puck came out to him … I managed to squeeze my arm in beside my body to stop the shot, then I rolled over to make sure I still had the puck and it wasn't going anywhere. And then there was a barrage where Saskatoon had something like six shots in four minutes. But we held the fort and got past the pressure.
Sakic: Trevor Kruger was the MVP of that game. He really made some immaculate saves throughout the game but especially in that first part of the third period he was really solid and kept us in it. We were a tired team. Our legs weren’t there. We were just hanging on at times during the game.
Darren Kruger:   (In overtime) we eventually got control in the offensive zone. (The puck) came back to Wilkie. He was on the left side, I was on the right side and so I slid over to the left side to support him.
Kyle Reeves: Wilkie kind of came in and dangled around a guy, and Kruger was already in on the play. All I remember is just thinking that if Wilkie got pokechecked, it would have been terrifying because it would have been two-on-one the other way and I would have been the only guy back … I still kind of think about that from time to time.
Wilkie: I thought I was going to pot the last one just because I found myself in all alone, and the puck just drifted off my stick right at the end. I got control behind the net and Krugs was reading what I was doing so it was an easy pass (to him) from behind the net.
Darren Kruger:  I went to take a slap shot, faked it, the Saskatoon guy sold on the fake shot, so I went around him and when I saw Brian Sakic on the back side of the net I was trying to get it to him. I wasn’t even looking at Tizzy (Tisdale) but Tizzy got a stick on it … my intention was to pass to Brian on the back side.
Wilkie: We were surrounding the net. Krugs made a great move to get the defender to go down and Tizzy just happened to have his stick in the right place.
Trevor Kruger:  It really looked like just another play, but when you get the goalie moving east to west like that anything can happen. I was looking straight down the ice and when Tizzy put his arms in the air I just followed suit and skated down there as fast as I could.
Reeves: I just remember being really nervous. I never actually saw the puck go into the net, but I could tell by the goalie’s reaction that it’s gotten by him and I was almost celebrating probably before anybody even started cheering.
Darren Kruger:  I just remember jumping into Sakic’s arms and the pure jubilation.
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Sakic: It was physically and mentally exhausting. One goal is going to make or break your season. We had a whole month off. We won 12 games and then we had a month off because you had to wait for the Memorial Cup to start, then you start again and you have to get used to playing hockey every day, which makes it more stressful. When the goal went in it was just relief. You can't imagine the relief I felt.
Trevor Kruger:  I think the reality of the situation set in right away for me. To go through what we did from the bus crash three years earlier and losing my brother, to winning it all, it was just such a special moment. I was fortunate that I had another kick at the can a few years later (in 1994) with the University of Lethbridge when we won the national title there, but it’s always the first one that’s the special one and I can remember all the little intricacies.
Darren Kruger: It was a special moment for sure. Did I think about the accident and Scotty? Not at that particular time, but it sure hit home a few weeks later what a great story it was and I was very thankful to have won a championship with those guys.
Reeves: At that time I was basically kind of a fourth-line or fringe third-line player and … to tell you the truth when you’re 17 and it’s your first year in the Western Hockey League, you don’t really have anything to compare it to so I don’t know if you can fully appreciate how big it is or how lucky you are to even have a chance to be in that situation.
Wilkie: It was relief. Being there from the time that the Broncos moved, to going through all the things that we went through, and for that to be the last game … especially for the seven of us that were left from the first season in Swift Current, we knew it was our last game together and it was such a sense of relief to finish it that way, going out as the best.
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Sakic: It was a perfect end to a perfect season. Tisdale was the MVP of our team and probably of the league so it was fitting for him to score that goal. The team was No. 1 all year in Canada … and it was just meant to be. Everything turned out perfect.
Reeves: I know some of my buddies follow the Memorial Cup and it’s become quite a big deal now … It’s a neat thing to see a lot of people respect Memorial Cup and I think it’s the next best thing to win besides the Stanley Cup. There’s a lot of Canada's culture on that cup with all the people that have won it, so it’s nice just to have your name on it and it’s one of those things I definitely think about from time to time.
Wilkie: That group of guys and that moment in my life has helped me in so many situations in other championships that I’ve played in and coached. That taught me what it takes to win … The more I think about the community and how they really rallied around us and supported us and were there to listen and to give us the support that we needed so we could be successful has more and more of an impact as I get older. There’s a great group of people in that town and we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we did without all of them. In all my travels there have been some great hockey fans but very few like in Swift Current.
Trevor Kruger:  I appreciate the fact that people aren’t letting it go. It’s history, it’s tradition and it needs to be remembered.

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