Written by Shawn Mullin for www.swiftcurrentonline.com
To many fans in central Alberta, Giorgio Estephan will always be a Lethbridge Hurricane.
After Saturday night he will also be remembered as a Swift Current Broncos playoff hero.
The former Lethbridge captain delivered his signature Broncos performance against his old team with an overtime winning hat-trick goal lifting Swift Current to a 2-0 lead in the WHL Eastern Conference Final.
“It was a hard fought game,” Estephan said. “There was a couple of times throughout the game where everyone was frustrated. We stuck with the game plan and we stuck with everything that were making us good… that one felt pretty good at the end for sure… we were just trying to get a lot of pressure and a lot of shots on net especially in overtime… I kind of got off my guy a little bit… and it was a perfect pass by (Sahvan Khaira) right on my tape. All I had to do was tap it in.”
It was a huge performance by Estephan who struck twice early, played bigger minutes in all situations after an injury to Glenn Gawdin and went 17/26 in face-offs before scoring the OT winner.
“He stepped up,” said Broncos Head Coach/Director of Player Personnel Manny Viveiros. “That’s why we brought him in. He does a lot of stuff for us and he’s a great kid. On face-offs he makes a big difference. He’s a smart player. He knows where to be in certain times. I’m very happy for him.”
‘We don’t quit:’ Lethbridge head coach
The Hurricanes were generally happy with how they played in Swift Current and felt officiating had a part to play in the result.
“We were playing a good game,” said Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio. “Obviously a slow start. In the second and third period we played well. OT we had a lot of chances. It’s obviously tough. There were some questionable calls especially at the end they just decided to put the whistles away.”
It was the second game in a row that Lethbridge erased a 2-0 deficit but still came up empty in the end.
“Our leadership is awesome we don’t quit,” Kisio said. “We played hard and they started calling penalties on us and not them.”
For Swift Current the two wins are a clear message that no lead is safe against the Hurricanes and the Broncos know they have to keep working on their game.
“You can tell they are a resilient team,” Estephan said. “We’ve been up 2-0 twice and they’ve come back on us twice. We can’t take them lightly. They’ve really been speedy and putting pressure on us driving wide. We’ve got to learn from our mistakes even though we didn’t learn from Game 1.”
The Broncos head coach was quick to credit his opponent, while also recognizing his team did what they had to do to win the game.
“I thought Lethbridge played really well again tonight,” Viveiros said Saturday. “We were fortunate again to get a win tonight, but it’s playoff hockey. I’m certainly not going to apologize for it. We played well in spurts this evening. We made some mistakes and they capitalized on them right away… our guys worked hard… I thought our kids responded after the second period and got back to playing the way we needed to play.”
We’re not surprised, maybe the media is surprised but we’re not surprised by how good Lethbridge is… they’re going to give us everything we have to give. If we don’t play well they could beat us.”
Estephan got the Broncos an early lead striking twice in the same shift. He converted a very nice Gawdin pass on the power play before finishing a give-and-go with Max Patterson at even strength.
That’s when the Broncos ran into some adversity. Already without veteran defenceman Artyom Minulin, Swift Current lost Gawdin after a collision with Hurricanes defenceman Ty Prefontaine.
Viveiros didn’t expand on Gawdin’s status after the game beyond stating that he was “fine.”
Lethbridge pulled ahead with three goals in the second period. The first came when Jordy Bellerive’s pass deflected off Tanner Nagel and behind Stuart Skinner. Dylan Cozens then drew a penalty shot when Colby Sissons hauled him down on a breakaway and struck for his fifth of the playoffs.
Jadon Joseph completed the period finishing a scramble in front of Swift Current’s net created when Brad Morrison drove the net hard.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey the last two games,” said defenceman Josh Anderson. “They’ve pushed us to our limits. They’re not an easy team to beat they got to the conference final for a reason, but we’ve got to be ready to play every night.”
The Broncos tied the game in the third period on the back end of back-to-back power plays when Aleksi Heponiemi ripped a shot by Logan Flodell’s glove for his second of the playoffs. It was the second straight game he has come up big with a third period goal.
Overtime didn’t start well for Swift Current as Calen Addison ripped as hot off the post and the Hurricanes were coming on strong. Five minutes in, the Broncos started to push back and had a few good shifts leading up to the Estephan goal.
For Lethbridge that marks two well-played games with nothing to show for it as they head back home for Games 3 and 4. It’s not something they’re concerned about.
“Our group doesn’t lack confidence,” Kisio noted. “We’re fine. We’ll come home and get it done.”
The series didn’t start with much animosity between the two sides, but it doesn’t take long for that to build in the playoffs. Especially when you have two physical teams ready to go at one another.
“Lethbridge is a little more chippy than Moose Jaw was for sure,” Anderson noted. “They’ve got guys more willing to hit you every time you touch the puck unlike Moose Jaw. They’re both good teams.”
The series resumes Tuesday in Lethbridge with live coverage broadcast on The Eagle 94.1 FM.