Undermanned Broncos empty tank but come up just short vs. rival Pats

Sam Steel recorded five assists and the Regina Pats won an exciting game against the Swift Current Broncos at the Mastercard Memorial Cup.

REGINA – Almost an hour after the Swift Current Broncos saw their season come to an end, the reality of the situation was starting to sink in for Glenn Gawdin.

Gawdin, who coach-GM Manny Viveiros said gutted through the last two rounds of the WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup with a separated shoulder, still hadn’t removed the blue and green sweater he’d donned for five years.

“It’s probably the last time I’ll have this jersey on,” he said.

The Broncos were eliminated from the tournament after a 6-5 loss to the host Regina Pats on Wednesday.

The Pats were led by a hat trick from Nick Henry and five assists by captain Sam Steel, a tournament record-tying showing. They now move on to Friday’s semifinal against the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, while the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan get a bye into Sunday’s final.

But the Broncos didn’t make it easy for them.

They were down 5-2 until Gawdin’s winger Aleksi Heponiemi scored with 5:38 remaining. They scored once more – Giorgio Estephan – with goaltender Stuart Skinner on the bench to pull to within one.

But while trying to get Skinner to the bench once more, the Broncos were called for too many men. Pats defenceman Libor Hajek’s goal on that power play wound up being the winner as Gawdin scored his second of the game with 49.5 seconds remaining.

“We maybe ran out of a little bit of gas,” Gawdin said. “The fatigue factor might have set in a bit for us in this tournament. Five extra minutes; I think we would have got it.”

The Broncos emptied the tank. But, in being undermanned and overworked, it wasn’t enough.

Swift Current played a second straight game without Tyler Steenbergen. Viveiros said his third-leading scorer was concussed on a hit from Acadie-Bathurst’s Jeffrey Truchon-Viel in the tournament opener.

Viveiros added defenceman Artyom Minulin dislocated his shoulder twice in the playoffs and will now have surgery.

And then there was Gawdin, the Broncos captain, who missed two games in the Eastern Conference semifinal against Lethbridge – two losses – but otherwise pushed through. Viveiros initially feared the injury would end Gawdin’s playoffs.

Instead, he was the post-season MVP after producing 32 points.

Add in the team’s record-setting, 26-game WHL playoff run — and the fact Wednesday was their 101st game of the season — and the Broncos were spent.

“We were running on fumes at the end here,” Viveiros said.

The Pats, the team the Broncos eliminated in seven games in the first round of the WHL playoffs, took advantage on Wednesday.

Getting their revenge was something they wanted since the Broncos beat them in Game 7 on April 2.

“Our [45] days off, we were hoping these guys would win [the WHL championship],” said over-age centre Matt Bradley, who had an assist. “We’re happy hard work and preparation have paid off.”

“It’s a good feeling right now,” added centre Jake Leschyshyn.

Wednesday’s game was played in front of a raucous crowd with more than its share of Broncos fans making the 250-kilometre trip east to Saskatchewan’s capital.

It wasn’t hard to tell these provincial rivals have played each other three times in the playoffs over the last four years.

Chants of “Skin-ner, Skin-ner” rained down on the Broncos goalie after the national anthem and following every goal he surrendered.

The Pats never trailed in the game. They were pretty much in complete control until the Broncos mounted their late charge.

Steel now leads the tournament with 10 assists and 11 points and Henry tops the list with five goals.

Cameron Hebig and Bryce Platt also scored for Regina, while Josh Mahura had two assists.

Skinner followed up his 54-save performance in a 2-1 loss to Hamilton on Monday by surrendering six goals on 28 shots.

“I feel really bad about how I played today,” he said. “Feel like I let the team down.”

The loss was especially frustrating for Skinner, who has lost two playoff series against Regina – with Lethbridge – plus Wednesday’s elimination game.

“I only beat them once and that was this year in the series. It’s tough to lose against them three times for me,” he said. “I don’t like them very much.”

Beck Malenstyn also scored for the Broncos, who were left to wonder what could have been.

Viveiros called the errors his team made that led to goals on Wednesday “tired mistakes.”

The Broncos lost all three tournament games by one goal, including one in overtime.

What if they had been more rested, heathier or had Steenbergen?

“We played a lot of games and we battled hard and we put our best forward. We fell short,” Estephan said. “From fatigue to mistakes to getting outplayed, it could be anything. But we’re proud of what we accomplished. It stings.”

It stings for Gawdin, too. He had three points and Heponiemi had four with their usual linemate out of commission.

While playing through his his own injury, Gawdin had his best game of the tournament in what was his last game of his junior career.

After 353 games with the Broncos – regular season, playoffs and Memorial Cup – he just wanted to keep that sweater on for as long as he could.

“We were close,” he said. “I think this showed a lot about our character as a team. We didn’t quit for a second.”

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