REGINA – Stuart Skinner was left to wonder what else he could have done to change the outcome for his Swift Current Broncos.
Yes, the goaltender who made 54 saves and had one opponent laughing and looking to the rafters because of a string of 10-bell stops felt he could have done more.
“If I made that last save, we could still be playing right now and maybe we would have won. I’ve got a lot better,” said Skinner, an Edmonton Oilers prospect. “I’m going to make sure I’m better on Wednesday.”
That last unsaved puck came off the stick of Hamilton Bulldogs winger Marian Studenic with 2:01 left in regulation.
And Wednesday means a date for Skinner and the Broncos with the Regina Pats, a game that requires a win to keep their Memorial Cup hopes alive.
“I’m gonna try to bring whatever I brought today into my next game. It worked for the most part,” Skinner said. “I believe I can do better.”
The Broncos are now in desperation mode in the tournament. They might not have been had they played with a little more desperation in front of their overworked netminder.
Playing without Canadian world junior forward Tyler Steenbergen – injured in the first game of the tournament – Beck Malenstyn moved up to the top with captain Glenn Gawdin and Aleksi Heponiemi. The Broncos failed to muster much of an attack and managed just 22 shots on Hamilton’s Kaden Fulcher.
Broncos coach-GM Manny Viveiros said his troops were a step slower than the Bulldogs all night.
At least they had Skinner, the man who tied a WHL single-season record with six shutouts this spring, holding down the fort.
“We didn’t even have a chance to be in the game if it wasn’t for Stuart,” Viveiros said. “Without Stuart, the score would have got out of hand a lot quicker.”
The Bulldogs were all over the Broncos in the first period, outshooting them 22-4. Naturally, they carried a lead into the intermission, courtesy of a MacKenzie Entwistle power-play goal.
Skinner shut the door entirely in the second. The shot volume went down, but the quality went up as he was forced to quell clear chances from the Bulldogs.
Skinner turned aside Isaac Nurse on a breakaway from the blue line in. He also made a glove save on Will Bitten in the slot.
The save on Bitten came moments after Broncos defenceman Colby Sissons tied the score on a power play. The goal didn’t give them much life.
The Bulldogs continued to get first-rate chances in rapid succession in the third, all part of a 19-shot frame.
Three opportunities came from star centre Robert Thomas. Skinner stopped him twice in the slot on unfettered chances.
Visibly frustrated, Thomas pressed his stick behind his neck and against his shoulder after the first miss. He stood and looked to the heavens after a second stop by the scrambling goalie.
Thomas was then robbed again on a breakaway as Skinner’s catching hand became his nemesis.
“I just sort of laughed at it and said I should probably not shoot glove side anymore,” Thomas said. “It happens when a goalie is playing well like that.
“He played a great game and he stood on his head for them. We had tons of chances, so we knew eventually we’d get one in.”
The one that went in came from a player who said he had a fever and sore throat the previous night and struggled to sleep. The ailments were enough to make him wonder if he would be able to suit up for the game.
But Studenic managed to play and converted a pass from defenceman Ben Gleason while standing off to the side of the net. His goal came after he missed the net on a breakaway and tipped a point shot off the post.
As a bonus for the Slovakian winger, his parents arrived in Regina on Sunday.
“This is like almost five months when I saw them the last time, so I’m happy they can see it,” Studenic said.
Bulldogs coach John Gruden said the goal couldn’t have been scored by nicer person or player.
But he was even more pleased with his team’s effort after a sluggish 3-2 loss to Regina last Friday.
With the win, the Bulldogs have, at worst, secured a spot in a potential tiebreaker game on Thursday. A win in their round-robin finale Tuesday over the Titan gets them to, at minimum, a spot in the semifinal.
But the outlook is way less rosy for the Broncos. A loss on Wednesday against the Pats and their season is over. And you know the host team would like to exact some revenge for their WHL playoff meeting.
The Broncos played in a WHL post-season record 26 games this spring en route to their title. They’re now likely going to need to win four straight win to claim the Memorial Cup.
The odds are against them. But, despite another tough, late loss, they’re not done yet.
“We’re not grinding. We’re not down. Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Skinner said.
“We’ve been in pretty tough situations. What I’ve seen from my group is every time our backs are against the wall, we come out the other side.”
NOTES: Broncos defenceman Sahvan Khaira made his tournament debut. He missed Swift Current’s opener due to illness.