It took a little longer than they would have liked, but the Humboldt Broncos are into the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League final.
Coming off a four-game sweep of the La Ronge Ice Wolves in Round 1, the Broncos won the first three games against the Battlefords North Stars before needing a Game 6 overtime win on the road to avoid a trip home for a deciding Game 7.
The series victory means Humboldt will play for the SJHL title for the sixth time in 11 years, looking for their fifth league championship in that span; the Broncos were SJHL champs in 2003, 2007, 20, making three trips to the RBC Cup.
They already know they’ll be part of this year’s National Junior A Championship as the host team for the May 5-13 tournament, but they want to go in the front door, and the series victory over the North Stars was step two in that quest.
Facing a Battlefords team just three days removed from an energy-sapping 2-1 Game 7 overtime win over Nipawin, the Broncos came out firing on all cylinders in Game 1, scoring three goals in each period to run away with a 9-4 victory, led by four goals from Robbie Ciolfi.
Humboldt hit the road the next night and doubled its series lead with a 3-1 win, and was on the verge of its second consecutive sweep after a one-sided 7-1 triumph on home ice in Game 3.
But Battlefords kept its season alive in Game 4, scoring twice in the final six minutes to break open a 1-1 tie and earn a 3-1 victory, and Tanner Schwab’s only goal of the postseason was the overtime winner in Game 5 to send the series back to North Battleford.
The Broncos looked to be in position to eliminate the North Stars after two periods of Game 6, holding a 3-1 lead and outshooting Battlefords 29-14, but the hosts scored twice in the third period to force overtime for the second game in a row.
However, there would be no Game 7 thanks to Humboldt defenceman Kameron Ballas, who scored just 92 seconds into the extra period to send the Broncos to the Canalta Cup Final.
“I was talking to (backup goalie Matt) Hrynkiw before overtime and he said the game-winning goal would be a point shot that was tipped in front and I said, ‘No, I'll just put a seeing-eye shot on net and it'll go in,’ ” Ballas told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix following his winner. “We were sitting in the dressing room after the game and I said, ‘I told you I'd get it,’ and he was like, ‘Oh my God, you did!'"
Ciolfi finished the series with eight goals in six games and sits atop the SJHL playoff scoring chart with 18 points (13 goals, five assists) in 10 games, while Colin Dzijacky (1.99) and Hrynkiw (2.14) sit second and third, respectively in playoff goals against average, splitting the Broncos’ 10 games.
Humboldt’s opposition in the final? The Weyburn Red Wings, who needed seven games to eliminate the Melville Millionaires in their semifinal.
The Red Wings and Broncos are two of the most successful teams in SJHL history, combining for 17 league championships – nine for Humboldt, eight for Weyburn – since 1971, the first year of Junior A competition.
Surprisingly, despite all the success the two teams have had, they have met only once in the league final – in 1971, when Weyburn beat Humboldt in five games.
Humboldt Broncos vs. Weyburn Red Wings
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