Pats pull together to oust rival Broncos and advance to semi-final
The Regina Pats are headed to the Mastercard Memorial Cup semi-final, exacting revenge on the rival Swift Current Broncos in their 14th meeting of the season.
Captain Sam Steel tied a Mastercard Memorial Cup record with five assists while Colorado Avalanche prospect Nick Henry netted a hat-trick to lead the Pats to a 6-5 win before 6,484 at the Brandt Centre.
The WHL champion Broncos never quit, clawing their way back from a 5-2 deficit to pull within a goal inside the final minute of regulation before time ran out on their comeback bid. The loss came in their 101st game of the 2017-18 campaign.
“It got a little closer than any team would’ve liked when you have a lead, but your opposition always has a say,” said Pats head coach John Paddock of the late-game intensity. “We knew they’d have a push in response. We’ve played them so much in our last few games, so it’s not real surprising.”
After eliminating the Broncos in a seven-game series last spring before Swift Current turned the tables in the first round of the 2018 WHL Playoffs, the Pats came out on top in the latest chapter of the Saskatchewan rivalry, sending the hometown fans home happy in anticipation of a semi-final showdown with the Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday.
“Sam is a special player,” said Henry of his linemate Sam Steel following a hat-trick performance. “I’ve played a lot with him for the past two years. We have great chemistry and we’ve built that and adding Cam (Hebig) to our line has been a nice addition and it’s been a lot of fun.”
Steel picked up his first of five assists on a first period power play, setting up Henry for a one-timer to put the Pats out in front 7:36 into action.
Regina outshot Swift Current 11-8 in the opening frame before a five-goal second period ensued, keeping fans on the edge of their seats throughout.
The Regina power play struck again midway through the second as Steel picked up another primary assist, this time setting up Cameron Hebig for his third of the tournament to put the Pats up 2-0.
Swift Current captain Glenn Gawdin answered just over a minute later at 11:46, breaking into the offensive zone to beat Max Paddock from a low percentage angle to give the Broncos some life.
Henry’s second of the night came shorthanded from Steel with 3:51 left on the clock. The two forwards broke in on a two-on-one against Swift Current’s Colby Sissons, evading the stick of the veteran defender as Henry beat Stuart Skinner across his crease to reinstate Regina’s two-goal lead.
The Broncos didn’t need long to stay within striking distance though as Beck Malentsyn lit the lamp for the first time in the tournament, doing so on the power play with an assist from Gawdin just 23 seconds later.
Henry capped off his hat-trick 1:03 later with Steel drawing the lone assist to round out the second period scoring summary. The Pats made good on another two-on-one with Steel holding on until the last possible second before dishing to a waiting Henry who made no mistake, giving Regina a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Regina capitalized on another odd-man rush midway through the third to give themselves a three-goal cushion. Overage forward Matt Bradley fed Bryce Platt coming through the middle as he beat Skinner on the backhand with 9:17 remaining in the third.
The Broncos got desperate inside the final six minutes of regulation as goals from Aleksi Heponiemi and Giorgio Estephan at 14:22 and 17:11 instilled hope in the Swift Current faithful, giving them reason to cheer as their club was back within a goal.
Swift Current would take a costly too-many men penalty with Skinner attempting to reach the bench for the extra attacker, giving Regina a power play where New York Rangers prospect Libor Hajek took a feed from Steel to score the eventual game winner and put the Pats up 6-4 with 1:38 remaining.
Gawdin would wrap up a highly accomplished five-year WHL career with a late marker at 19:10 to pull the Broncos back within one, but time would run out on Swift Current as Regina held on for a 6-5 victory, advancing to Friday’s semi-final.
After setting a WHL playoff record requiring 26 games to hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup, the Broncos played to an 0-3 mark at the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup, losing star forward Tyler Steenbergen in their opening game of the tournament. They were led in scoring by overage forward Giorgio Estephan with six points (3-3–6) in three games.
“I thought we played really well. We made some mistakes and they capitalized,” said Broncos head coach Manny Viveiros. “Our mistakes throughout this tournament were tired mistakes. Our group is tired and I noticed that coming into this tournament. Our energy level was low and throughout the games you could see how tired we are. We just didn’t have that extra gear we had throughout the playoffs.
“I’m so proud of that group, they’re a really special group and they work really hard. We were running on fumes at the end here.”
As a result of the Regina victory, the Acadie-Bathurst Titan (2-1) advance to Sunday’s Championship Final. It marks the first time since 1999 in Ottawa that three teams finished the round robin with 2-1 records.
The Pats and Bulldogs square off in semi-final action on Friday at 8:00pm MT/10:00pm ET on Sportsnet and NHL Network.