F Giorgio Estephan, who according to reports was treated rather rudely during Game 4 in Lethbridge on Wednesday night, answered the hooters with two goals and an assist on Saturday, leading the host Swift Current Broncos to a 4-3 victory over the Hurricanes. . . . The Broncos lead the WHL’s best-of-seven Eastern Conference final, 3-2, and have an opportunity to end it in Lethbridge on Monday when you have to think Estephan and G Stuart Skinner will again be given a huge raspberry welcome by the fans there. . . . Skinner stopped 27 shots in Game 5. . . . He and Estephan were veteran Hurricanes when they were traded to the Broncos in January. . . . Estephan, with 10 goals in these playoffs, gave his guys a 2-1 lead, on a PP, at 19:12 of the second period, then made it 4-2 at 6:41 of the third period. . . . The Hurricanes got to within a goal when D Egor Zudilov (1) scored, on a PP, at 18:59, with G Logan Flodell on the bench for an extra attacker. . . . The Broncos had D Artyom Minulin and F Glenn Gawdin, their captain, back for this one. Minulin left Game 1 with an undisclosed injury, while Gawdin was injured in Game 2. . . . Minulin and Gawdin each had one assist last night. . . . F Brad Morrison scored once for Lethbridge, giving him a WHL-leading 37 points. He has tied the franchise record for points in one playoff season that was set by F Wes Walz in 1990.
In Everett, D Juuso Valimaki scored twice to lead the Tri-City Americans to a 5-2 victory over the Silvertips on Saturday night. . . . Everett leads the WHL’s best-of-seven Western Conference final, 3-2, and gets a second chance to wrap it up when they play Monday in Kennewick, Wash. . . . Everett F Connor Dewar (7) tied a WHL playoff record when he scored seven seconds into the game. He now shares the mark with F Trevor Linden of the Medicine Hat Tigers. He did it on April 15, 1988, as the Tigers beat the host Saskatoon Blades, 6-5. If you are wondering, the regular-season record of five seconds was set by F Dean Sexsmith of the Seattle Thunderbirds on Jan. 30, 1987, in a 7-6 victory over the visiting Victoria Cougars. . . . On Saturday, Valimaki, who has four goals, tied it at 2:29 of the second period, then gave his guys a 4-1 lead at 5:23 of the third. . . . The Americans got 35 saves from G Patrick Dea. . . . The Silvertips were without Slovkian F Martin Fasko-Rudas, who left Game 4 with an undisclosed injury. With Fasko-Rudas out, F Dawson Butt got into the lineup.
In Steinbach, Man., F Braden Purtill scored twice and G Matthew Thiessen stopped 25 shots to help the MJHL-champion Pistons to a 3-1 victory over the SJHL-champion Nipawin Hawks on Saturday night. . . . The best-of-seven ANAVET Cup series is tied, 1-1, with the next three games scheduled for Nipawin on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights. . . . Last night, Nipawin took a 1-0 lead on a goal from F Logan Casavant. F Brandan Arnold drew the primary assist. Nipawin scored five goals in the first two games; Arnold has three goals and two assists. . . . Steinbach F Austin Heidemann tied it, on a PP, at 4:06 of the third period. . . . Purtill broke the tie at 10:32, then added insurance, on a PP, at 13:44. . . . Announced attendance was 1,165.
In Wenatchee, Wash., G Austin Park blocked 31 shots to lead the BCHL-champion Wild to a 3-0 victory over the AJHL-champion Spruce Grove Saints. . . . The Wild leads the best-of-seven Doyle Cup series, 2-0, with the remainder of the series scheduled to be played in Spruce Grove starting with games on Tuesday and Wednesday. If necessary, they’ll also play Thursday, Friday and Saturday. . . . Last night, F August Von Ungern gave the Wild a 1-0 lead at 11:29 of the third period. . . . The home team later added a pair of empty-netters, from F Jasper Weatherby and F A.J. Vanderbeck. . . . The announced attendance was 2,835.
Roy MacGregor of The Globe and Mail tackled the length of the NHL’s season in a Saturday piece that is right here.
Of the NHL playoffs, MacGregor writes: “The happiest hockey, the hockey fans enjoy by far the most, comes in the first round and sometimes in the second round, with the interest and, usually, the quality of play deteriorating steadily until the Stanley Cup is ultimately decided. What would be the climax in any other sport becomes, at best, duty to those hockey fans without a city in the final. Television numbers might still be up, but there is a profound difference between background sound and passionate cheering.”
As one would expect from MacGregor, this is a piece that hits the nail squarely on the head.
Of course, he also could have pointed his keyboard at virtually all levels of hockey because, really, the season has become pathetically long, not only for the fans, but also for so many teams and players. The calendar is going to turn to May and the WHL won’t be through the third round of its playoffs, with the championship final and the Memorial Cup still to come. It’s the same for junior A teams, whose season will conclude next month with the Royal Bank Cup in Chilliwack, B.C.
And we won’t even get into spring hockey, summer hockey and all the spring camps and tryout camps . . .
For me, it’s now baseball season. When it comes to the NHL, I will make a point of watching the Vegas Golden Knights, simply because the expansionists are the greatest story in sports right now.
I also watch the Golden Knights because I love the way they play the game, pressuring the puck all over the ice. As I watch, I wonder how many NHL teams will be scrambling to emulate this style next season.
But as the NHL playoffs drag on, so does the play, what with all of the uncalled cross-checking, holding, interference and other penalties. All that does is penalize speed and skill, something that quite likely will end up playing a role in the eventual demise of the Golden Knights.
As for the rest of the NHL playoffs . . . as for the over-hyped silliness that was the NHL draft lottery . . . as for all the rest of it . . . well, not even the presence of Brian Burke and his tired untied tie shtick in a TV studio is enough to draw me back.