Hockey fans often ease into the long haul of a season. Tyler Steenbergen and his Swift Current Broncos teammates have noticed that’s not the case in their city.
The Broncos whetted the appetite for a winner in the WHL’s smallest market by playing successive seven-game series last spring, bowing out to the Regina Pats, this season’s MasterCard Memorial Cup host team. With Swift Current (8-1-0, .889 point pct.) off to a strong start with the line of Steenbergen (ARI), Glenn Gawdin and Aleksi Heponiemi (FLA) pacing the attack, little has happened to curb that enthusiasm.
“Last year the crowds that came out in the playoffs were unbelievable,” says Steenbergen, who is first in WHL scoring with nine goals and 25 points in nine games. “It (the Credit Union iPlex) was probably the loudest rink I have ever been in … So far this year, the average attendance has been unbelievable. We haven’t had anything like it at the start of the year. That shows that the fans want us to win now and so does our team and we want to bring that to them.”
Four WHL teams, including the Broncos and East Division counterpart Moose Jaw Warriors, have only one regulation loss after four weeks of play. Winning the WHL title and joining Regina at the Memorial Cup in May — “Our fans would come out. It’s two hours down Highway 1,” Steenbergen notes — really exists only the abstract.
“It’s a long road, it’s a gruelling schedule, 72 games, and you never know what happens with injuries and who teams pick up,” Steenbergen says. “We want to win as much as we can and we have the guys to do it … I know some teams take us for granted, being from a smaller market, but we want to be at the Memorial Cup at Regina.”
Getting a small window into what it takes to reach a goal, like Broncos did last spring, can make it seem more attainable. The 19-year-old Steenbergen is experiencing that personally. Leading the WHL with 51 goals last season led to being taken in his second go-around at the NHL draft, going to the Arizona Coyotes at No. 128 overall.
“Just going to camp helped me realize what I need to go to the next level,” says Steenbergen, who hails from Sylvan Lake, Alta. “The last few years people would say, ‘You need to have a pro mentality.’ And I didn’t really know what that was like. Being in Arizona and taking it all in and what all the older guys do before the game and how they prepare for a practice really showed me what I have to do to get to the next level, taking care of my body, always being in game mode. Sometimes last year I didn’t have that, but that’s what I want to do this year and bring to my teammates.”
Swift Current has increased its season-ticket base to 1,700, representing more than 10 per cent of the city’s population of 16,000. As a fourth-year player, Steenbergen believes “the amount of care” shown toward the Broncos makes the team sustainable.
“Right away, my 16-year-old year, I noticed it,” he says. “I’m walking down the street and a fan recognized me. I was thinking, ‘I’m 16 and I’m on the fourth line.’ And even then they’re recognizing you. That shows me that they care not just about the guys who are scoring, but they care about every single player.”
Océanic, Remparts get heated
A GIF of a blindside hit that causing the glass to shatter says a thousand words — or about as many as coaches Philippe Boucher and Serge Beausoleil had to say after a chippy home-and-home set between the Quebec Remparts and Rimouski Océanic.
Sunday’s rematch in Rimouski saw 34 penalties called, including a major and game misconduct for charging to Remparts right-winger Mikaël Boucher for an illegal check on the Océanic’s Samuel Gaumond that shattered the protective glass. Gaumond was also on the giving end of a similar collision that knocked Quebec’s Austin Eastman out of the game.
Robidoux est chassé du match pour extrême inconduite en plus d’un 5 minutes de pénalité! Le match reprendra dans quelques minutes pic.twitter.com/ipdwVe6jMO
— Océanic de Rimouski (@oceanicrimouski) October 15, 2017
— Jérôme Bérubé (@Jerome_Berube) October 15, 2017
There were no full-on fights, but the teams did have a scuffle break out during the Friday game in Quebec City. The rivalry has always had some natural little-city-versus-big-city tension, never more so than when the Océanic defeated the Remparts in a seven-game President’s Cup final in 2015.
After Sunday’s game, Boucher accused the Océanic of having ulterior motives, telling Le Soleil newspaper, “They put enough in their Kool-Aid before the game, it’s clear; their mandate was clear.” Beausoleil called out Remparts alternate captain Andrew Picco, saying the six-foot-four, 219-pound over-age defenceman was attacking Rimouski’s scorers, without having to “face the music,” which presumably means fighting.
Boucher also suggested Beausoleil was engaging in theatrics to goad referees into penalty calls, especially on plays involving the Océanic’s 16-year-old No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafrenière.
“Serge is going to have good thighs by the end of the year after climbing on the bench as soon as his players get hit,” Boucher said, according to Le Journal de Quebec and Le Soleil.
Surging Petes perfectly balanced
A statistical anomaly — having nearly every player score a point during a win that wasn’t a blowout — might sum up why the Peterborough Petes are a contender in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. In the course of a three-win week, Peterborough had 16 of its players get on the scoresheet during a 6-3 win against the Sudbury Wolves last Saturday. There were two assists on each goal. Yet over-age captain Logan DeNoble and 17-year-old winger Pavel Gogolev were the lone multi-point men.
Coaches talk about having four lines contribute, but it’s rarely realized to that extent. Peterborough (.750 point pct.) has also managed to start strongly without first-pairing defenceman Matt Timms (foot) even playing so much as a single shift. Timms resumed skating last week.
Canadian NHL team prospect of the week: Matthew Phillips, C, Victoria Royals (WHL)
Short in stature, but long on the superlatives, the undersized speedster Phillips (No. 166 overall to his hometown Calgary Flames in 2016) has 24 points in just 10 games. That included 10 in four games last week, although the No. 1-ranked Royals lost a game (two in a row, actually). Phillips has not been held scoreless yet this season.
The five-foot-seven, 155-pound Phillips and Victoria are embarking on a five-game Prairie road trip over the next week and a half. That includes a matchup on Friday against Memorial Cup host Regina.
New name to know: Félix-Antoine Marcotty, RW, Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)
Marcotty is third in rookie scoring among non-imports, with nine points (5G-4A) in as many games for Chicoutimi, where coach Yanick Jean is giving the 16-year-old right-winger ample opportunity to play in all situations. The five-foot-11, 185-pound Marcotty has already has three multi-point games.
The native of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., whose December 2000 birthdate puts him in the 2019 NHL draft class, was the Sags’ second-round choice in the 2016 draft before playing an extra year of midget AAA hockey at Collège Charles-Lemoyne in Longueuil. That appears to have done wonders for Marcotty’s confidence.