LETHBRIDGE – A blockbuster deal ahead of the WHL trade deadline between the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Swift Current Broncos, has so far looked like a win for both sides.
The swap on Jan. 9 saw Lethbridge move captain Giorgio Estephan, goaltender Stuart Skinner and forward Tanner Nagel to Swift Current. In return, they received forwards Logan Barlage and Owen Blocker, defenseman Matthew Stanley, netminder Logan Flodell and a package of draft picks.
Since then, the Hurricanes have gone 7-2-3-0, while the Broncos have posted a record of 7-3-0-1.
Looking at Friday night, Feb. 2, though (yes, it is just one game) it’s looking even better for the Hurricanes as they topped the Broncos 5-2 on home ice.
"Walking in the opposite way, being on the opposite bench… I was kind of star-struck a little bit." - Giorgio Estephan
Following a tribute to the three former ‘Canes (more on that later) the host club exploded out of the gates, outshooting the second-best team in the WHL 18-6 through the first 20 minutes, and pulling ahead 2-0. It started with a sharp wrister from Lethbridge defenseman Igor Merezhko at the 5:40 mark, and captain Jordy Bellerive extended the lead with just over two minutes to play in the frame, driving a one-timer past Skinner while on the power play for his team leading 34th goal of the season.
It’s worth noting that Bellerive seemed to put a little extra on the shot, seconds after getting levelled from behind by former teammate, Nagel.
The second period saw more of the same, as Tate Olson and Keltie Jeri-Leon scored two more power play goals for Lethbridge, who went 3/5 on the man advantage. Just seconds after going down 4-0 though, Swift Current’s Josh Anderson dropped the gloves with his former teammate, Matthew Stanley, which seemed to give the visitors some life to end the period.
After what appeared to be a mostly frustrating opening 40 minutes for Estephan and his new team, he sparked the Broncos by firing a wrist shot past Flodell. From that point on the period was dominated by Swift Current, as they owned the puck, hemmed Lethbridge into their own zone for long stretches, and fired 23 shots on net. During the onslaught, Glen Gawdin managed to beat Flodell on the power play to cut the host lead to 4-2 with just over three minutes left.
That’s as close as Flodell would allow his old team to get though, and Ty Prefontaine put the nail in the coffin with two minutes remaining, putting the puck into the Broncos’ empty net.
“I thought all those guys that came from Swift Current – Barlage, Flodell, Stanley and Blocker – they did a great job,” Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio said after the win. “They competed hard, they worked hard – Stanley got in a fight. It's an emotional game for those guys, and I thought they responded in the right way.”
As mentioned earlier, prior to puck drop the Hurricanes took a few moments to recognize Estephan, Skinner and Nagel with a video tribute, playing some of their highlights from their time in Lethbridge. The team also singled out Estephan for having recently played in his 300th WHL game.
“It was super-special,” said Estephan, before boarding the Swift Current bus to their next stop in Cranbrook, B.C. “I've been playing in this rink for the last five years, and for them to do that for me was pretty special and I'm grateful for it.
“It's definitely weird,” he continued of the experience. “Walking in the opposite way, being on the opposite bench… I was kind of star-struck a little bit. It was kind of weird for me. It took me maybe a little bit longer than I was hoping to settle in, but it was definitely nice to be back.”
Next up for the Hurricanes is a home date with Edmonton on Saturday, Feb. 3. The Oil Kings currently sit dead-last in the Western Hockey League.
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