HUMBOLDT — The Humboldt Broncos plan to keep busy for the almost two weeks between their last regular season game and their first playoff tilt.
“It is like a mini training camp here, being focused towards the playoffs,” Humboldt head coach Scott Barney said. “Just keep continuing with the things we do as a team. Playing together. Some team bonding.”
The Broncos are expected to open their Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoffs on the road in Estevan on March 15.
Humboldt finished with a 35-19-3-1 regular-season record and have the sixth seed.
As the SJHL rewards its division winners, the Broncos actually had a better record than their quarterfinals foe the Estevan Bruins, who won the Viterra with a 31-22-3-2 record and 67 points compared to the Broncos’ 74. Estevan is the third seed in the postseason.
Barney said Estevan is experienced and that Bruins bench boss Chris Lewgood is a good coach who has been around. Full playoff dates were not available at the Journal deadline.
The top six seeds received a bye into the quarterfinals, but have to wait for the two SJHL Wild Card series to be completed before hitting the ice.
The Broncos’ successful regular season turned heads as it came in the wake of April 6 bus tragedy that claimed 16 lives and altered many others.
Only Derek Patter and Brayden Camrud returned for the whole season from that squad.
The rebuilt Broncos not only competed, but were league leaders at one point in the season.
“To have a finish like that, I don’t think anybody expected it,” said Barney, who took over coaching after the departure of Nathan Oystrick in late December. “When you are coaching the players, you can see the talent and the perseverance they have day in and day out and how they compete for each other.”
Twenty-year-old Michael Clarke capped his junior career with his best season. He paced the team with 71 points – sixth in the SJHL as of Sunday, 28 goals and 43 assists in 57 games. Camrud, who missed time with an injury, had 27 goals and 55 points in 48 games to place second on the team in both categories.
Camrud, Clarke, and Patter have been crucial leaders for the Broncos and serve as assistant captains. The team does not have a captain this season out of respect for its late leader Logan Schatz.
Acquired in November, Drew Warkentine brought a scoring touch to the Broncos. He was third on the team with 24 goals in 33 games. He was usually deployed on a line with Clarke and Owen Guenter, who was second on the team with 38 assists in 58 games.
Josh Patrician led the Broncos blue line with 39 points in 58 games. Zach McIntyre, a 17-year-old, paced the Humboldt rookies with 11 goals, 15 assists, and 26 points in 54 games.
The Broncos received strong goaltending from the duo of rookie Rayce Ramsay and 19-year-old Dane Dow.
Ramsay, in his 17-year-old season, had a 2.73 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. Dow led the team with 19 wins and had a 3.06 GAA and a .906 save percentage.
Last week the Broncos wrapped up their regular season by going 1-1. On Feb. 24, the Kindersley Klippers had come from behind to beat Humboldt 4-3 at home. Last Friday the Broncos avenged that loss with a 3-1 road win.
“I think it was one of our best 60 minutes of the season, especially on the road,” Barney said. “I think the guys showed great character coming back to win in [the Klippers’] rink.”
The Broncos’ regular season came to a close with a 9-6 loss to Battlefords that saw goals scored in bunches.
“It was a high offensive game. There were a lot of good goals each way,” Barney said. “Obviously, we came out on the wrong end. Good compete level all around by the guys going into the playoffs here now.”