HUMBOLDT — Although they did not win the championship they desired, last season’s crop of Humboldt Broncos 20-year-olds departed with great memories and friendships.
In 2020-21, the Broncos had eight players in their final junior season. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League squad played only six games – posting a league-best 5-1-0-0 record.
“We felt we had put the right pieces in place and also were on our way to having a potential championship season,” Humboldt head coach Scott Barney said. “With clubs adding [Western Hockey League] players, we decided to stick with the players who had made sacrifices to become Broncos and it paid off with our first-place start. Couldn’t ask for a better group of 20-year-olds, who hopefully have helped groom some of our younger talent for the coming seasons.”
The team’s 20-year-old group consisted of defenceman and captain Doug Scott; forwards Reid Arnold, Austen Flaman, Chase Nameth, Jarrett Penner, and Luke Spadafora; and goalies Dean McNabb and Tanner Marshall. Five were new to the team this past season.
“I really enjoyed the 20s this past season,” Scott said. “We all had a lot of chemistry on and off the ice. It would’ve been nice to have been able to get to know the new 20s better and create a better relationship with them throughout the season and continue to grow the friendships built with the guys returning, but the dice didn’t fall the way we wanted them to. It’s just sad to see the season go to waste with so much potential between the eight of us and now none of us will be able to play junior hockey again. It Just felt like an unfair way for us to end our careers.”
The group does have great memories and friends from their time in Humboldt. Spadafora said the fan and community support for the Broncos is second to none.
“Very cool experience playing in front of 1,000 plus fans a night and, just walking in town, people knowing who you are,” he said. “It’s also awesome seeing younger kids look up to you as a role model and being able to talk to them and making their day. When I was a kid, looking up to an older hockey player was the coolest thing and being able to do that is a very awesome feeling.”
Penner and Spadafora have signed to play for B.C.’s Trinity Western University in U Sports. Scott is headed to the NCAA Division I ranks to suit up for the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York State. Spadafora said that playing for Humboldt took his game to another level.
“Top tier coaching was probably the biggest thing,” he said. “Barney and Toner [assistant coach Curtis Toneff] were the two best coaches I’ve ever had. Their attention to detail was amazing and they were always looking at making everyone on the team better. Whether it was watching video everyday or staying on the ice after practice and using their past knowledge to teach us things was awesome and every day I took something new away from them. It was pretty easy to play for them. You basically just had to be a sponge and absorb everything they were saying because they definitely know what they are doing and teaching.
“Another thing was every one of my teammates was there to get better and win. We had such a tight group every year and we were always pushing each other to get better. Playing in Humboldt was a blessing and it was a very special place to play and it’s something I will have with me for the rest of my life.”
When discussing this past season’s 20-year-olds, Barney talked about the team’s approach to recruiting.
“Our biggest thing always has been we want players who want to be Humboldt Broncos and have strong character traits,” the coach said. “Through any acquisitions or recruiting, this is one of the major things we have looked for along with their natural talent and ability to develop. This has helped form and create the culture in our locker room from day one until now. Every year the players have learnt from each other that no person is bigger than the team.”
After the April 6, 2018 Broncos bus crash with a semi that claimed 16 lives, the team had to rebuild. Arnold, Spadafora and defenceman Kade Olsen, who is a year younger, were members of the team that brought the Humboldt squad back to the ice. Barney was an assistant coach when that season started and became the head man partway through. Spadafora was dealt to Melville during that season but returned in a deal during the next campaign.
“Olsen, Arnold and Spadafora have been with the team for three years,” Barney said. “They know what is expected on a daily basis and have led the way showing our younger players what it takes to not only be successful on the ice but more importantly off the ice.”
Arnold, a Yorkton product, had an assist in six games during his final season. Calgary’s Spadafora, the 2019 SJHL Rookie of the Year, scored three goals and recorded eight points in six games last winter.
Barney said that the 2000-born players that came later fit into the same mould as Arnold, Olsen, and Spadafora
Scott, who hails from Vancouver, was acquired by the Broncos partway through the 2019-20 season. He had an immediate impact – posting 30 points in 26 games. Last season the blue liner had four goals and 10 points in six contests.
The Broncos brought in three 20-year-old forwards for last season. Emerald Park’s Flaman joined the team from the Nipawin Hawks. Flaman had three assists through six games. Regina’s Nameth returned to his home province after competing in the B.C. Hockey League. Nameth had two goals and two assists in five games as a Bronco. Penner came over from the Notre Dame Hounds. The Saskatoon product recorded seven points, including a goal, in six outings.
Newcomers Marshall and McNabb backstopped the Broncos to the league’s top record last winter. Kelowna’s Marshall helped the Brooks Bandits win the 2019 Alberta Junior Hockey League championship. He was 2-1 with a 2.68 goals against average for the Broncos. McNabb spent his three previous seasons in the WHL. From Davidson, McNabb posted a 3-0 record with a 3.63 GAA.
“We had a ton of confidence in those two,” Scott said. “Both of the guys being in their fourth year of junior hockey … Marshy knew what it takes to win already - being on a championship team – was awesome and very knowledgeable. McNabb playing in the WHL and having the experience there … As a team we knew whoever was playing would give us a great chance to win night in and night out. Unfortunately, we only were able to have that for six games.”