The leadership qualities of the veterans have become increasingly apparent as the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champion Humboldt Broncos became the first qualifiers for the Royal Bank Cup national junior A championship.
Humboldt defeated the defending Royal Bank Cup finalist and five-time Manitoba Junior Hockey League champion OCN Blizzard 4-1 to win the best-of-seven Anavet Cup, for the Manitoba-Saskatchewan championship.
Centres Orrin Hergott and Jeremy Wray, right winger Keith Reade, defencemen Craig Olynick and Colin Johnson have been among Humboldt’s playoff stars.
“All played some of their best hockey of the season,” said Humboldt coach Bob Beatty, praising the performances of his veterans against OCN.
Humboldt native Hergott, 20, was the leading scorer in the Anavet Cup with seven goals and nine points in five games. He leads Humboldt with 14 goals and 23 points in 18 playoff games.
Wray, 20, was second among Anavet Cup scorers with four goals and eight points in five games. He led the Broncos with two goals and two assists in an 8-1 win in the fifth game April 24 before 2,100 fans in Humboldt.
The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Wray is second among Humboldt playoff scorers with 13 goals and 22 points in 18 games.
“We hope to take it to the next level,” said Beatty. “We have as good a chance as anybody.”
Humboldt has a 16-3 playoff record as it prepares for the five-team national tournament May 3-11 in Charlottetown, P. E. I. The Broncos are 55-15-6 and have three overtime losses in 79 games overall.
“We have great leadership in the dressing room,” said Beatty. “It has developed over three seasons.
“It’s an easy team to coach. The players are eager to win.”
Reade, 20, was third among Anavet Cup scorers with seven points, including three goals, in five games. He leads Humboldt with 44 goals, 56 assists and 100 points in 79 games overall.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Reade has eight goals and 18 points in 19 playoff games.
Humboldt native Olynick, 20, leads Humboldt with 12 assists and is third among Broncos with 20 points in 19 playoff games. He has 25 goals and 66 points in 75 games overall.
Johnson, 21, joins Olynick, Brendan Vanthuyne and Mark Bradshaw as leading offensive threats from the back end. Johnson has 20 goals and 57 points in 79 games overall.
“We haven’t played kitty bar the door,” said Beatty. “It’s hard on coaches sometimes. But we try to be low risk.”
Humboldt has scored 323 times and has allowed 244 goals overall. The Broncos have 69 goals and have allowed 53 goals in the playoffs.
“We pride ourselves on our depth,” said Beatty.
That is an obvious strength when one examines the team statistics.
Kris Kasper, 19, led Anavet Cup scorers with five assists and was fourth among Anavet Cup scorers with six points in five games. Kasper has nine goals and 16 points in 19 playoff games.
Right winger Matt Brown, 20, is third among Humboldt players with 10 goals and is tied for fourth among Broncos with 18 points in 19 playoff games.
“Matt’s hard work is finally paying off,” said Beatty. “He comes through under pressure. He is our captain for a reason.
“He also kills penalties and is out checking opposing forwards at the end of the game.”
Humboldt was a finalist for the Centennial Cup national championship on home ice in 1987, after finishing with a 3-0 record during the round-robin.
The Broncos were first in the Dodge Conference, and overall, with a 39-12-6 record and three overtime losses during the regular schedule. They swept two of three best-of-seven series in the league playoffs.
Unfortunately, Humboldt will be without veteran centre Joe DeMichele, 21, at the Royal Bank Cup. DeMichele, the Broncos’ second leading scorer, tore his medial collateral ligament in the third game against OCN.
“That was a big blow,” aid Beatty. “But the guys are stepping up.”
Humboldt will open against the Dudley-Hewitt Cup champion May 4 in Charlottetown.
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