About four months ago, when the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Swift Current Broncos completed a blockbuster swap at the trade deadline, it looked, on the surface, like a deal involving two teams going in different directions.
It was interesting, then, that both clubs wound up in the same place in the Western Hockey League playoffs — battling for the Eastern Conference title and a trip to the WHL finals.
While it was the Broncos who ultimately prevailed, finally eliminating the Hurricanes in six games with a clinching victory Monday night in Lethbridge, the series gave Canes fans cause to be immensely proud of their hockey club as well as reason for optimism next year.
The January trade signalled that the Broncos were going all in to make a splash in this year’s WHL playoffs. The Canes, in dealing a trio of key veterans, were casting an eye to the future.
But if Hurricanes fans thought that meant the team was throwing in the towel on this season, someone forgot to tell the hockey club. Sitting two games under .500 at the time of the trade, the Canes finished in second place in the Central Division with a 33-33-6 record before beginning a playoff run resembling last year’s stirring playoff chase that also went six games into the Eastern final before stalling.
While the Canes and their fans are undoubtedly disappointed that the Broncos halted their bid to reach the WHL finals, this year’s playoff run was an unabashed success story. Keep in mind that the Canes finished 31 points behind Swift Current in the regular-season standings, yet proved they could hold their own against the Saskatchewan club.
Besides that, the Canes gained valuable playoff experience that will bode well for next year. Consider that 16-year-olds Logan Barlage (acquired in the trade with Swift Current) and Dylan Cozens added 16 playoff games to their budding WHL resumes. Such testing in the fires of playoff competition is a major benefit, for all the Canes, that will pay dividends in the season ahead.
Consider also that just three years ago, the Hurricanes had completed a sixth straight season out of the playoffs. They had won a total of just 32 games over two seasons and were the butt of jokes. Fans and critics debated the franchise’s future in Lethbridge.
How things have turned around since then. Peter Anholt, completing his third full season as the Canes’ general manager, has crafted a renovation project worthy of a series on HGTV. Anholt has put together a talented lineup that has meshed well and head coach Brent Kisio has guided the squad with a skilled hand. The team has earned the league’s respect and the future is even brighter.
Of course, the ones who get it done on the front lines are the players, and those who wear the Hurricanes’ logo are deserving of praise for their accomplishments this season, particularly for the strong post-season showing. This is a group of young men who play hard and play as a team, and off the ice, they display the kind of class that shows junior hockey in its best light.
Hurricanes fans, and Lethbridge, can be proud of their hockey club.
And we can hardly wait for next season.