WHL’s Central Division Leaders

By Glen Crichton

The Swift Current Broncos just continue to churn out competitive teams year after year and the 2001/2002 season appears to be no different, except that this team seems to be more than competitive, they have a legitimate shot to make a Memorial Cup run. Led by a strong group of creative scorers and playmakers, the Broncos also have a number of players that play with “sandpaper”, making a solid mix that winning teams always need.

Up front the Broncos are led by a very creative duo in Duncan Milroy and twenty year old Tim Smith. Both are solid playmakers who can finish as well, while Smith also brings a knack for irritating the opposition to the point of distraction. Nathan Smith, a Vancouver Canuck first round draft pick is a solid goal scorer who can play at both ends of the rink and is also a lot tougher than most give him credit for. Brent Twordik, James Hiebert, Ben Ondrus and John Dahl are all gritty while contributing at both ends of the ice. Matt Sommerfeld is a big tough forward who has improved enough to garner more ice time, thus his role on a speedy, skilled hockey team becomes even more important. A strong group of young guys fill out the front end, however the top two lines will carry most of the load offensively for the Broncos and this is the one area the Broncos may want to add some depth and experience. Come playoff time, some of the other teams may be a little deeper up front, which is where a long playoff run can be won or lost.

On the back end the Broncos have a mixed bag, but are spearheaded by the immensely talented seventeen year old offensive defenseman Ian White. Tied for the team lead in scoring with Tim Smith, White is capable of controlling a game from defence and is able to look after his own responsibilities defensively as well. The rest of the defence is solid if unspectacular. Steven Spencer is a nineteen year old defenseman who adds toughness and is a huge open ice hitter. Ales Cerny is another offensive defenseman but is solid in his own end, while Jarad Bourassa and Kevin Seibel are stay at home defenders who just take care of business. Cory Graboski, European Ivan Usenko, Dustin Friesen and Travis Friedley are others that contribute on the Bronco defence. With a surplus of young defenders, the Broncos could possibly do some dealing to shore up two areas I believe they fall short in, that being a veteran forward with some size who plays physical and a veteran defenseman who can replace the leadership and toughness lost when Dean Serdachny graduated from junior hockey last year.

In goal the Broncos have a solid pairing of twenty year old B.J. Boxma and seventeen year old Todd Ford. Boxma is a seasoned veteran with Memorial Cup experience gained as back up to former Kootenay Ice team-mate, now New York Ranger, Dan Blackburn. Boxma sports a 5-2 record with a .899 save percentage while team-mate Ford has a perfect record of 4-0 with a save percentage of .947, excellent for any level of hockey but especially junior hockey when you can have a number of inexperienced defenders in front of you. With Boxma’s experience and Todd Ford, a huge goaltender with terrific potential, the Broncos seem set in goal.

Overall, the Broncos seem like the team to beat in the Central, not so much because they are better than the Red Deer Rebels who are currently nipping at the Broncos heels, only one point behind, but because they will play a disproportionate number of games against in my opinion, weaker East Division rivals. Due to some compromises over travel during realignment, the Broncos switched to the Central Division in order to balance the divisions, however, they will still play thirteen more games in the east division, while playing only 22 in their own division, which in my opinion will allow the Broncos to fatten their numbers, while the Rebels get no such break. I’m not blaming the Broncos, because if the east division was really strong, it would be a disadvantage. Fortunately for the Broncos, this year the east appears to be the weak division.