Swift Current Broncos
25 years ago today the Swift Current Broncos won their only Memorial Cup, the top prize in the Canadian Hockey League.
Tim Tisdale scored 3:25 into overtime for a 4-3 win over the host Saskatoon Blades on May 13, 1989. He still resides in Swift Current and is very involved in minor hockey and with the Western Hockey League.
“It is surprising how much it actually does come up, especially still being involved with the league and being around the rink, that is probably the most common place. Still probably once a month at least somebody brings it up sort of out of the blue,” said Tisdale.
The Broncos had lost to the host Blades in the round robin and then outshot them 33-21 during regulation of the championship game but Mike Greenlay made 30 saves to force overtime. Saskatoon had the first five shots on goal in the extra period before Tisdale scored on the Broncos’ first shot. “Yeah they definitely had the better scoring chances early on. Saskatoon probably had the best game they played all year that we saw and a lot of emotion,” said Tisdale.
Tisdale seems to remember that goal like it happened yesterday.
“We just got a chance where we broke out of the zone and dumped the puck in, which is something we didn’t do very often. We dumped it in and won some battles to get possession. Then we just had skilled defensemen making plays. [Bob] Wilkie beats a guy basically standing still, passes it over to [Darren] Kruger, who again just shows so much patience and awareness, sees me sitting on the back door and I was just able to get a stick on it.”
Brian Sakic was also in the vicinity. “I always bug Brian Sakic because if I don’t get a stick on it he probably gets a stick on it and he is the one who gets to score the goal,” Tisdale smiles.
Defenseman Dan Lambert had assists on the first two goals in the championship game and was named the Tournament Most Valuable Player. He is currently an assistant coach with the Kelowna Rockets, who were the top ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League for much of this past season before being eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by the Portland Winterhawks.
"I think the fact that I am involved in the league and there is a lot of things that I draw from that team that we had, the fact that whenever you win championships it is always special to win. There is no doubt that I do look back at those teams. I am not sure I could say I think about them daily or anything like that, but it was a special group. The one thing that I have come to realize is that the Memorial Cup is probably one of the hardest championships to win," said Lambert.
Lambert and the Rockets found out just how hard it is to even make it to the Memorial Cup this season.
“When you are dealing with young men first of all, we had a great regular season in Kelowna. We did feel we had a few holes or places we needed to be better to compete against the two teams that are playing right now. We were there but yet everything has to come together. Probably our best players for us during the playoffs this year were our 16 and 17-year-olds. When you look at that I guess your older guys didn’t bring what we needed them to bring and you really needed everybody,” he explained after his team was eliminated in five games by Portland after leading the WHL with a 57-11-0-4 record.
The Broncos ran away from the league in 1988-89 with a 55-16-1 record, scoring 447 goals along the way. They were even more dominant in the playoffs, winning all 12 games, outscoring their opponents 83-37.
“When you look at the league and the fact that you can breeze through like we did, it is one thing to win 12 straight like we did in Swift, but it is the way we did it as well. I think in those 12 wins there was a lot of games that weren’t that close,” said Lambert.
No Saskatchewan based team has played in the Memorial Cup final since the Broncos. This year’s winner, either the host London Knights, Guelph Storm, Val-d’Or Foreurs and the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, or Edmonton Oil Kings, will be the top team out of 58 Canadian Hockey League teams.
“It is real tough to even get there, but to be able to say you are the best in Canada is pretty special,” said Tisdale.
The Broncos’ 180 powerplay goals in 72 games has never been challenged by any WHL team. In comparison, the Portland Winterhawks led the league by a wide margin with 92 powerplay goals this past season. The Broncos once scored 10 powerplay goals in a single game in 1989 against the Moose Jaw Warriors, a record that still stands.
Tisdale said the skill level of that team was what set it apart. He led the team that season with 136 points, and forwards Peter Kasowski and Sheldon Kennedy also topped the 100-point plateau.
“We had probably three of the most skilled defenseman to ever play in the league. Danny Lambert gets a lot of the credit, Darren Kruger I think doesn’t get enough credit for the way he played, he set a record that year for the most powerplay assists, and then Bob Wilkie, so those guys played a lot,” said Tisdale.
Darren Kruger remains tied for the WHL record with 63 powerplay assists that season as well. “That’s the thing I remember is just the skill level on the back end. We had it up front with three and four lines that could really contribute offensively, but that back end was pretty special,” said Tisdale.
“We talk about Portland being a pretty special team, but there is no doubt that we were similar for that one season in Swift Current, there is no doubt,” said Lambert.
Goaltender Trevor Kruger backstopped the team to the championship.
“Even Trevor Kruger, he doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he took a lot of pressure away from our defenseman with the way he played goal. He was one of the first guys to go out and play the puck as much as he did. Our defenseman never had to take a lot of hits making plays because Trevor bailed them out on a lot of occasions," explained Tisdale.
He admitted that the young men on that team had no idea that their Memorial Cup would be so important to so many 25 years later.
“I don’t think you could no. I think we knew what it meant to the City of Swift Current and that it would probably be remembered here. But it is amazing, you go outside Swift Current, to Saskatoon and Regina and those places, and the memories that everyone in Saskatchewan has, I don’t think we could have ever anticipated that it would still impact everybody province wide.”