The Humboldt Broncos are putting a lot of smiles on fans’ faces this season.
After the April 6 bus crash claimed 16 lives, the team has been completely rebuilt. Only two players, with last week’s departure of Tyler Smith to continue his healing back home in Alberta, remain on the roster from last season’s playoff squad. With a crew of new players, the Broncos have battled their way to near the top of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League standings. As of Sunday, they had a 19-9-2-1 record and sat in second place in the league – two points behind Nipawin.
“I am impressed with the job that coaches and management did to put together such a good team when forced to start from scratch,” said Maurice Plemel, the principal at Colony Chevrolet, whose dealership has supported the Broncos since 1972. “Also, how the team has come together so quickly. They have obviously bought into the game plan formulated by the coaches and are working hard to be successful. As in the past, the Broncos provide great entertainment, win or lose, because of the effort they put in every game.”
The Broncos have suffered some adversity as of late. With two losses last week, the Broncos have fallen in four straight games. They looked to get back on the winning track on Tuesday against the Battlefords North Stars on the road before playing in Flin Flon on Friday and Saturday.
Malcolm Eaton, who was Humboldt’s mayor from 2006 to 2016, said it is fun to watch this year’s edition of the Broncos.
“They are always giving 100 per cent and never quit,” said Eaton, whose son Joey played three seasons for the team. “Amazing when you think only a few months ago they did not even know each other or the coaches.”
Eaton said he is also enjoying the game atmosphere at the Elgar Petersen Arena. The team was second in the SJHL with an average attendance of 863, as of Saturday.
“Good crowds and enthusiastic. Lots of old fans coming back and new fans from Humboldt and the region. It’s great to see,” Eaton said.
As they have done in the past, the Broncos are getting out in the community to lend a hand and meet their fans. Members of the team were at St. Dominic School late week to serve a meal, read, and play floor hockey. When Aimee Vetter picked up her children Farrah, Grade 4, and Brady, Grade 2, from school that day, they were very excited.
“These Bronco players are local celebrities to the kids, so when they take time to interact with the kids sign their shirts - it’s pretty huge for them,” she said. “They come home with smiles excited to say who they talked to and that they have a new favourite player! It really makes their day. The Broncos have always done this [since my kids started school at St. Dominic] and it’s always been a ‘countdown’ to hot lunch with the Broncos!”
The Humboldt Broncos arguably made the biggest splash in the SJHL at the Dec. 1 roster cutdown deadline where teams must get down to 25 players or less.
Humboldt traded with La Ronge for 20-year-old forward Mitch Zambon. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound Saskatoon product was second, by two points, on the Ice Wolves in scoring with 30 this season. On Sunday, in his first game as a Bronco, Zambon recorded an assist. He was reportedly acquired for a player development fee and prospects David Wiens (F) of Carrot River, Saskatoon’s Boston Maxwell (F), and Drayton Hvidston (D) of Tisdale.
Defenceman Max Johnson was added from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Calgary Canucks. The 18-year-old from Grand Forks, ND, had three goals in 27 games this season. He was acquired for 19-year-old defenceman Zach Bokenfohr, who came in the Drew Warkentine trade but had not played for the team.
Eighteen-year-old forward Jackson Kobelka was sent to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Waywayseecappo Wolverines for a player development fee. He was later traded to the Selkirk Steelers.
The Broncos got 19-year-old forward Tyler Petrie from the AJHL’s Grande Prairie Storm for future considerations. He had five points in 25 games this season split between the Storm and the Canucks.
Prince Albert’s Drew Warkentine has had a major impact since joining the Broncos in a Nov. 13 trade.
The 20-year-old forward has scored seven goals in as many games. He had seven goals in his first five contests with the team.
Warkentine’s golden touch around the net earned him the SJHL Player of the Week for the period ending on Nov. 26. He had five goals in three games during that period.
“When Drew is engaged, he has the ability to put up points and be a physical presence for his team,” said Carrot River Outback Thunder Junior B head coach Trevor Logan, who coached him for a couple games last season. “He’s the type of player if he gets rolling he can be a difference maker every night in Junior A. A danger to score and can lay the body.”
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound forward spent parts of three seasons in the Western Hockey League with his hometown Prince Albert Raiders. Last season he played most the season with the Melfort Mustangs. Warkentine started this campaign in Lloydminster before being traded to the Broncos for a player development fee. He had previously played handfuls of games for the Broncos in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
Ramsay called up
For the second time this season, the Kamloops Blazers called up 17-year-old goaltender Rayce Ramsay. He was added to help the team on the weekend because one of the Kamloops’ netminders was injured. In his first call-up, Ramsay played in two games for the Blazers and posted a 1.99 goals against average.
With Ramsay away, Dawson Cochrane of the Humboldt Broncos midget AA team backed up Dane Dow, which he also did earlier in the season. He got into Sunday’s game and stopped all but one of the 22 shots he faced.
Michael Clarke was named the runner-up for the RBC SJHL Player of the Month award. Melfort’s Justin Ball won the honour.
The Broncos’ Dec. 14 contest is a flex game where unused tickets can be used. Last Sunday’s and Thursday’s games were also flex games.
Sunday’s game featured a teddy bear toss and a Christmas jersey auction. These events supported the Humboldt & District Kinettes Christmas Cheer campaign and the Humboldt District Hospital Foundation. Who let the dogs out? The Humboldt & District SPCA were at Thursday’s game with puppies Tala and Rockstar.
The Broncos have a trio of road games this week. They were to play Battelfords on the road on Tuesday. This weekend they head north to play the Flin Flon Bombers Friday and Saturday at the historic Whitney Forum.