Cinderella, your chariot awaits.
Next stop, Swift Current.
Basically against all odds one can think of, the Regina Pats have arrived at the WHL’s annual playoff ball.
The ugly stepsisters they defied to get here are almost too many to count:
A new coach/VP of hockey operations, who pledged to sacrifice short-term success for long-term gains.
No fewer than eight rookies who received a regular shift throughout the year.
The mid-season trading of their unquestionably best four players, and subsequent 1-6 win-loss record over the next three weeks.
A late, season-ending injury to their new best player, 16-year-old rookie Sam Steel.
And on we go.
The Regina Pats won just 12 of 30 games post-trade deadline.
Their leading scorer this year, Adam Brooks, had four goals and 11 points in 2013-14.
Yet here they are, with home-ice advantage for a first-round series against the Swift Current Broncos, and the very real possibility of upsetting some Eastern Conference heavyweights before the clock strikes midnight.
Pats bench boss John Paddock for Coach of the Year? Absolutely, and it’s not even close.
At the same time, therein lies the Broncos’ best hope for winning their first playoff series since 2008.
The Pats are where they are thanks largely to a high-tempo, and highly-structured, style of play. Disrupt the structure, watch the fire drill ensue.
What Regina delivers in speed when entering the attacking zone, it sometimes lacks in awareness. If they can slow the puck carrier near the blue line in any way, the Broncos should generate a large number of offside calls.
Defensively, whether by design or accident, the Pats tend to force a lot of shots to goalie Daniel Wapple’s glove side. This is good news for Regina, because Wapple may have the best glove hand in the Eastern Conference. Shots from Wapple’s right side, however, often result in the kinds of crease-side scrambles that no system on Earth could prepare for.
Special teams may not be so simple. The Pats have fully adopted the hyper-aggressive, man-to-man penalty-kill coverage that was one of the Broncos’ calling cards from 2012-14. It paid off for Regina with a league-leading 19 short-handed goals for the season and a 92.1 per cent success rate after Christmas.
On the flip side, who better to counter that approach than a group of players who basically had a trademark on it until the start of this season? Swift Current’s power play against Regina this season went six-for-28, or 21.4 per cent.
Finally there’s the maturity factor. The Pats have traded most of their veterans and are now without their inspirational leader for the rest of the season. They’ve shown time and again that they can be goaded into taking needless penalties at the worst possible times.
If all else fails, the Broncos may be able to find success by channelling head coach Mark Lamb’s one-time teammate Kenny Linseman and unleashing their inner Rat.
The Broncos’ season, by contrast, has not been the stuff fairy tales are made of. They unexpectedly lost Julius Honka to the pros, along with Coda Gordon, Carter Rigby and Dillon Heatherington for significant stretches to injury.
Then they endured a seven-game losing streak late in the season and didn’t clinch a playoff spot until the last weekend of the season.
The Broncos still allow far too many shots to sustain any kind of long-term success. Landon Bow faced 35.1 shots per 60 minutes this season, almost four per game more than any other Eastern Conference playoff goalie.
They’ve got some confidence issues of their own, in terms of their ability to rebound from a bad goal instead of letting it snowball.
That’s a double-edged sword that can swing both ways. When things are good for the Broncos, they’re rrreeeaaallllllyyy good.
Now they just need to find a way to speed up the clock.
Following the WHL ruling late Wednesday, the Swift Current Broncos have subsequently traded Brycen Martin to Saskatoon.
The trade the Swift Current Broncos where they acquired Josh Connolly from the Kamloops Blazers along with a 2nd Round WHL Bantam Draft pick in 2016 for Brycen Martin was voided Wednesday afternoon.