When the Swift Current Broncos step on the ice Thursday in Calgary for their 2013 Western Hockey League playoff opener they will do so with very little post-season experience.
Only four of the 27 players on the Broncos roster have ever skated in a WHL playoff game, and those four players’ playoff experience totals a paltry 32 games, almost half of which comes from injured forward Brent Benson, who has not played since Nov. 7.
The Broncos have missed the playoffs the past two seasons so it is not surprising that the team lacks playoff experience. But considering that nine players have been acquired via trades it would be reasonable to expect a few more games in the post-season.
So will that lack of experience lead to an inability to deal with the pressure, intensity, and the emotional highs and lows of a best-of-seven playoff series? Or has it created a hunger that can help propel the Broncos to their first playoff series win since 2008?
“I think it is a saw off,” said Broncos Head Coach and General Manager Mark Lamb. “Would we like to have a lot of playoff experience? Yes. But we weren’t in the situation to have any playoff experience and you have to get it now.”
Fourth-year Broncos Reece Scarlett and Adam Lowry have one playoff series with the Broncos while Levi Bews and Benson appeared in the post-season with the Saskatoon Blades.
“For our young guys that just got here this is going to be a great learning experience. For the Scarlett and Lowrys, who have only played a little bit in the playoffs, they are going to be really hungry,” said Lamb. “This could be their last year, it probably will be. They are the leaders of this team and they are a big reason why this team has come so far in the last couple of years.”
Lamb said the Broncos will have to make due with the experience that they have gained throughout the regular season.
“They are going to be hungry and the experience thing will take care of itself. The rookies aren’t rookies anymore. We have [Dakota] Odgers that just came up, he is probably the youngest guy that will probably get a chance to play. Other than that they are all veterans, they have had a year of experience without playoffs.”
Most WHL teams can probably look to their three overage players for playoff experiences to draw from. Broncos overagers Dalton Reum, Chance Lund, and Ryon Moser, veterans of 12 combined seasons with the Broncos, Vancouver Giants, Seattle Thunderbirds, and Lethbridge Hurricanes, don’t have a single playoff game appearance among them.
Lund was with the Thunderbirds in 2009 for the playoffs but missed all five games due to injury.
“You have to start somewhere,” Lund grinned after the Broncos 6-2 win over the Regina Pats to finish the regular season on a four-game winning streak. “I feel that the way we have been playing all year in these one-goal games has really benefitted us because they have been kind of playoff style. We know that we are going to have to work even harder and it is going to be even more of a battle, even closer games, and more intense.”
Lund was reduced to a spectator in 2009 but still got a feel for the playoff intensity.
“Yeah it is really intense and it is a battle every night and a lot of work. Even just watching from the stands was really intense. Even in the dressing room the guys were just so focused and keyed in. It is really tough and a battle where you have to fight through everything. You are going to have to take bruises and do whatever you can to win.”
The Hitmen were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs last season in five games by the Brandon Wheat Kings after missing the playoffs in 2011.
Their 25-man roster features 16 players who have seen playoff action, totaling 175 games in the WHL post-season.
“It is going to be a fun experience,” said Scarlett. We all don’t know necessarily what it is like to play playoff hockey here in Swift Current. But it will be fun. We will all kind of be like kids on Christmas Day. We are going to be excited and it is going to be fun.”
The 19-year-old New Jersey Devils draft pick does have one playoff round to draw experience from.
“The play gets stepped up another level. Everybody is dedicated and wants to do anything and everything and you have to be ready to go to war,” said Scarlett.