When the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic was fully realized in Canada, on-ice performance quickly took a back seat for Swift Current Broncos players, coaches, and fans.
The Broncos, still suffering the effects of selling assets to win the 2018 Western Hockey League championship, were in the midst of an 18-game losing streak when the league suspended play on March 12. The team sent the players home on March 15 and the regular season was officially cancelled three days later as the Broncos finished last in the league with a 10-48-2-3 record.
“Originally the thought is it must be worse than we know about. For obvious reasons I think they took some precautions to really keep things in check. Day-by-day and hour-by-hour it was totally different for sure,” said Broncos Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations Dean Brockman.
Brockman had been out in Penticton scouting the Canadian Sport School Hockey League Championship when the season was suspended. He was back in Swift Current by the time they sent their players home and was able to briefly address the players, but said that they would hold exit interviews over the phone next week.
“Everybody wants to win hockey games and we didn’t win a lot. There’s that disappointment for sure, it’s disappointing for everyone. I think it’s a process that you have to kind of go through. I know everybody wants to win more, but it’s disappointing that we didn’t for sure,” said Brockman.
The Broncos made a number of trades during the season to try and create long-term success down the road.
“Personally I thought that it was going to be a tough go. We didn’t have a lot of assets to start with in draft picks and prospects. When you have to manufacture those draft picks through the players that were left over, it doesn’t leave you a lot.”
Broncos fans have quickly realized that any turnaround will take longer than expected after the Broncos shipped out their top young players and draft picks to win a league title for the first time since 1993.
“With the rules changing where you can’t trade for younger guys, it makes the process even that much longer because of the fact that you have to draft and you have to have those picks to draft with and then you have to allow those picks to come to fruition by drafting right and getting the players in the line-up that you need to be successful down the road. That’s the hardest part for everyone to understand. We went this route because we needed the picks and we need to get those players on the ice as quickly as possible, so long as their ready,” explained Brockman. “You can’t short track it any way unfortunately. We’d love to spend tonnes of picks to get better players, but that’s not the process that we felt was the right way to do it because then you are just pushing that issue down the road. It puts you in a tough spot.”
Brockman understood the enormity of the task when he was hired in 2018 after Manny Viveiros left for the Edmonton Oilers.
“I do believe I thought year two was going to be tougher than year one because you graduate Western Hockey League players and bring in players that maybe aren’t of that caliber because that’s what you have. It makes it tough.”
He said there were bright spots throughout the season despite the lack of victories.
“I think some of our younger guys that will be in our line-up next year, Sam McGinley, Hendrik de Klerk, Raphael Pelletier, Bode Hagan, those are young guys that are positive to go forward with. Isaac Poulter had a phenomenal season and solidified himself as a premier goalie in our league. I think we’ve got some pieces there that can sustain us through next year for sure.”
When Brockman was hired the Broncos only had a fourth and a fifth round pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft. They now have 10 picks in the first five rounds. “I think that’s exciting and I know those players are still far away from playing, but we need to have a very solid draft with making few mistakes on players that we’re able to get. We need to eliminate as many mistakes as we can because it is important that we get as many players drafted that can play in the league.”
Bronco fans can also look forward to seeing some members of their 2019 draft class next season. The early returns on that group of 10 players seem promising at this point.
“It’s a long process and we have some young guys that will be in our line-up next year that will start that process. I always refer to it is a tank of gas. Next year we’re going to have some of our younger guys, which gets us to a quarter full. When you can have another solid draft, and hopefully we can, I believe we can, that gets us to half, and then those players will be joining us the year after. There is starting to resemble a prospect list and players that will be able to play in the league, so that’s exciting for sure.”
The Broncos made two picks in the first round of the 2019 draft, selecting forward Mathew Ward 14th overall with a draft pick acquired from the Portland Winterhawks in the blockbuster six-for-one deal that sent goaltender Joel Hofer the other way. Ward finished eighth in CSSHL Midget Prep scoring with 64 points in 34 games for the West Vancouver Warriors this season.
The Broncos added defenseman Tyson Jugnauth with the 21st pick. He tallied 28 points in 34 games with the Okanagan Rockets in the BC Major Midget Hockey League, but recently committed to play for the West Kelowna Warriors in the BCHL next season.
Brockman remains hopeful that Jugnauth will suit up for the Broncos one day.
“Yeah we certainly are. Whether Juggy was ready or not to play at 16, I think defensemen always take a little bit longer to make it. They made a family decision to stay closer to home and play and we respect that. We’ll certainly have more dialogue as we go along. Everything is on really good terms. You have to respect people’s decisions when they make it. It doesn’t change the fact that we’d love to have him and we want to have him, whether it’s partway through next year or the next year, anything can happen for sure.”