REGINA — The Regina Pats had to wait over six weeks for the Memorial Cup to arrive after a first round exit at the hands of the Swift Current Broncos in the Western Hockey League playoffs.
Regina exacted revenge on the Broncos on Wednesday night by defeating them 6-5 in the round-robin finale to eliminate Swift Current from the Canadian major junior championship.
“Our (45) days off, we were hoping these guys would win (the league title),” Pats forward Matt Bradley said. “We’re happy hard work and preparation have paid off.”
Nick Henry scored a hat trick for Regina, which will now face the Ontario Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs in Friday’s semifinal.
The Pats’ win means the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan advanced directly to Sunday’s championship game.
Regina coach John Paddock said that losing last year’s WHL final along with the first round exit has been smoldering in his players.
“We were told we were the best team, but sometimes the best teams don’t win and we were told that after the series and we were told that this year,” he said.
“So I think they had something to prove for over a year.”
Cameron Hebig, Bryce Platt and Libor Hajek also scored for the Pats (2-1), who got five assists from captain Sam Steel. Josh Mahura tacked on two helpers and Max Paddock made 26 saves in net.
Glenn Gawdin struck twice with Beck Malenstyn, Aleksi Heponiemi and Giorgio Estephan rounding out the attack for Swift Current (0-3).
Broncos goaltender Stuart Skinner, who turned away 22-of-28 shots, said that losing to the Pats once again in his junior career is difficult.
“I only beat them once and that was this year in the (playoff) series,” Skinner said. ”It’s tough to lose against them three times for me. I don’t like them very much.”
Swift Current was without star forward Tyler Steenbergen for a second-straight game after he we was injured in the Broncos’ opener against Acadie-Bathurst.
Head coach Manny Viveiros said that Steenbergen suffered a concussion while Gawdin was playing with a separated shoulder.
The game was Swift Current’s 102nd of the season including regular season, playoffs and the Memorial Cup. Viveiros said that fatigue started to set in.
“At the of the day I really thought we were running out of fumes,” he said.
A five-goal second period broke the game open thanks in large part to Steel’s passing brilliance.
Hebig received a pass from Steel at the side of the net and tapped it in at 10:29 with the man advantage. After a Gawdin goal, Regina regained its two-goal advantage while shorthanded late in the second with Henry finishing off a 2-on-1 with Steel.
Henry completed the hat trick 57 seconds after Malenstyn’s goal when Steel found him again off an odd-man rush. Steel leads the tournament with 11 points.
“It’s just everyday things for those guys,” Mahura said of Henry and Steel. ”Obviously you never expect that out of players, but I mean it’s no surprise for us in the room to see them play like that in a big game.”
The Broncos made it close late with third period goals from Heponiemi, Estephan and Gawdin’s second of the game.
But a too-many men penalty with 2:12 remaining squashed any chance of a comeback.
And now, a fifth Memorial Cup title in franchise history is within reach for the Pats.
“It’s a good feeling right now,” Regina forward Jake Leschyshyn said. “I think we worked so hard to get to that point.
“We have two more games ahead of us. That’s what we’re focusing on now. It’s good fun right now, though.”