Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Next Swift Current Bronco Hall of Fame Inductees Should Be...

It's been awhile since this corner of the World Wide Web has been used for Swift Current Broncos talk. Blogs used to be a great place to talk sports, before the short form world of Twitter took the athletic information community by storm. Sometimes there is subject that requires more than 180 characters to do it justice.

This is one of those subjects. 

From 2014 to 2021, I was a full time employee of the Swift Current Broncos. Pandemics and other factors changed that. I still have an arm's length involvement with the team running game day production, but the days of a full work week at the rink are sadly over. 

And I miss that...but I love the place that fate has placed me and the role I play in our community. I run a small business that pays the bills and allows for the occasional vacation.  

Anyway...from 2014 to 2021, every day at some point I would walk past the Swift Current Broncos Hall of Fame. I would always take a second to ponder who should be inducted next... should the franchise ever reboot that program. 

There are two names that should be immortalized at our rink.  The first...

Mark Lamb. 

In local hockey chatter, "Lamber" is often regarded as an excellent GM, but Bronco diehards are frequently critical of his coaching abilities. 

Fair point. Mark and his staff had some profitable years, were able to attract world class talent to play in Swift Current and he was able to ice a competitive team in the CHL's smallest market. He pulled off a game changing trade for Cody Eakin that delivered assets to the team for the following 12 years! Drew Englot, a 2023 deadline acquisition for the Broncos, will end the fabled Eakin trade tree. The trade spanned the entirety of Eakin's NHL career and provided the Broncos with the late Colby Cave, one of the best captains in franchise history, as well as two members of the 2018 WHL Championship team (Andrew Fyten and Sahvan Khaira).  

However it was Mark's eye on the long term viability of the team that perhaps held him back from success as a coach. Never one to approach the board of directors with an elaborate shopping list of high priced trade deadline ideas, Lamb never went "all in". 

While success as a coach is defined by wins, losses and playoff success, Lamb was a good coach. Swift Current had first round NHL entry draft selections in back to back years with Julius Honka and Jake Debrusk. Mark took a cast off from the Saskatoon Blades in Brett Lernout and, with the help of his staff, moulded him into an NHL third round pick who has skated on NHL ice. Those are just a few of his success stories. 

Over Mark's time in Swift Current, he did a great job of recruiting and building up the team's depth chart. He set the table for the next man who should be Hall of Fame bound...

Manny Viveiros.

Manny was in Swift Current for a good time, not a long time...

And what a good time it was. 

Viveiros arrived in Swift Current after Mark Lamb took a job in the Arizona Coyotes organization. Manny arrived with the table set for success. He had a staff with veteran right hand man Jamie Porter, who has since captured another WHL title and a Stanley Cup ring in Colorado. An associate coach who would become a head coach in the league in Ryan Smyth, and assistant coach Jamie Heward, a veteran of several hundred NHL games, who has since followed Manny to the Vegas Golden Knights organization were also waiting in Swift for Manny. 

Viveiros also arrived with a roster consisting of Glenn Gawdin (another future hall of famer) as well as sniper Tyler Steenbergen, who would suit up for team Canada and bury a World Junior gold medal game winning goal, and Alexsi Heponiemi, one of the finest import players to ever play in the CHL. 

While he had some strong players, he knew the best line in the CHL needed support. 

Regina was the Memorial Cup host in 2018. Viveiros knew the road to a championship would go through the Pats. Regina was making trades of their own to bolster their roster for a good Memorial Cup showing. Swift Current needed to match what was happening two hours east. 

...and they did. 

The 2018 WHL trade deadline was one for the books. In the aftermath, rules were changed regarding who could or couldn't be traded. When the smoke cleared, Swift had parted with, among other things, seven years worth of first round picks and players to acquire Stuart Skinner, Giorgio Estephan, Matteo Gennaro, Beck Malenstyn, Josh Anderson, Tanner Nagel and Andrew Fyten. 

Manny went all in, and it got Swift Current a league championship. Mark Lamb gave him the staff and the assets and Manny delivered. Had the Broncos fizzled out in the first round against the Memorial Cup hosting Pats, so too potentially could have Manny's coaching career in North America.  Manny had skin the game. He was going to do whatever it took to get the job done. Manny Viveiros is a winner in every sense of the word. 

But was it worth it? The years that followed of on ice struggles and low attendance at InnovationPlex. The large financial losses and lack of marketable talent for the team. Did Manny do the right thing by pushing all his chips and the team's future into the middle?

Yes, and you're a fool to think otherwise. 

Let's travel to an alternate timeline. One where the Broncos look at the high prices of acquiring talent in 2018 and decide, 'nope, too rich for our blood'.  Rather than build around Gawdin, Steenbergen and Heponiemi, the Broncos instead sell them off, or hang on to them in hopes of a round 1 upset. 

Say the Broncos sell the farm. They trade their big three. Prior to trade rule changes they likely get some 2001 or 02 players and some late round first round picks from the buyers. Even if they hit on every piece they acquired, those talents likely would have been lost to the pandemic. 

Look at the sellers in 2018:

Saskatoon. They made some big deals to help Regina build to a cup contender. They may finally make a bit of noise in the playoffs this year, but likely won't get passed Winnipeg if they get that far. Runners up in the 2021 Subway Cup in the Regina hub. Out in the first round in five games in round 1 last year vs Moose Jaw. 

Brandon. They sold Cale Clague to Moose Jaw for a respectable haul of draft picks and players. While they can boast a Subway Cup in the East Division hub in pandemic times, last year saw a first round exit to the Red Deer Rebels.

Kootenay ICE. They traded Cale Fleury to Regina for Cole Muir and Jonathan Smart and Vince Losciavo to Moose Jaw for Jakin Smallwood. The franchise relocated to Winnipeg in the aftermath, and two of the acquisitions from this trade helped Winnipeg to a conference final in 2022. 

Lethbridge Hurricanes and Calgary Hitmen: Trade partners with the Broncos in two blockbusters. Since the 2018 deadline both teams have spun their wheels in the middle of the eastern conference with Calgary missing the playoffs last season. 

So had the Broncos sold that season, rather than buy, it is unlikely much would have come from such a sale. Had they hung on to their top players, let's be honest, a first round exit against either Moose Jaw or Regina was likely. 

But back to Manny. What he did that season was something that can't be quantified on spreadsheets or hockey standings. 

That 2018 playoff run was a special time in Swift Current. From the January 10th trade deadline to Glenn Gawdin hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup on May 13th, Manny and his staff brought our community together. Just shy of two years later, COVID 19 would rip it apart. The 2017-18 Swift Current Broncos gave Swift Current a six month party before things would change forever. They also padded the Broncos bank account for the tough times that would come in the pandemic. Half full rinks of masked people with a high percentage of the fan based not allowed in the barn was not a recipe for financial success, regardless of how strong the team was.  

Thank you Manny and thank you Lamber for giving us the best of times before the worst of times. 

Also, the current Broncos team is looking strong and is highly entertaining. The mortgage from 2018 is almost paid off. 

And it was a great buy.