It's hard to believe it's been eighteen years since the Swift Current Broncos met the Moose Jaw Warriors in the playoffs.
The two teams start every WHL year against one another in the annual pre-season rookie game and sit only ninety minutes apart on the Trans-Canada Highway. It seems only natural they would have a long and storied playoff tradition.
The two proud and community owned franchises have only met in the playoffs three times in their history. Swift Current toppled Moose Jaw 4-0 on the way to their Memorial Cup triumph in 1989, the Warriors returned the favour with a 3-0 sweep in 1991 and then Moose Jaw outlasted the Broncos 4-2 in 1999.
The most recent series was also the most competitive as it came down a 3-2 thriller of a game six in front of a listed crowd of over 3000 fans in the not yet renovated Swift Current Civic Centre.
“That playoff series against Moose Jaw was a battle,” said former Broncos forward Jeremy Rondeau. “There was so much energy in the rink. You were so excited to get there knowing the fans were going to be there early and they were jacked up for playoffs. It was so cool to see the fans come out and just be as jacked up as we were. We fed off the fans.”
For a rivalry that hasn't been regularly tested in the playoffs it certainly wasn't lacking for passion.
“Oh we hated Moose Jaw,” Rondeau said. “It was easy to hate Moose Jaw. They had great players and you played them so much you hated them just because.”
The Broncos dropped the first two games of the series on the road in the old “Crushed Can” where the Warriors crowd was notoriously close to the action.
“It was loud,” Rondeau said. “It was never a great rink to play in. They were on you. Their fans were relentless and ruthless. It seemed like you were so close to it that they were yelling right in your ear as you were skating down the ice. They've got a great fanbase there. We've got to match it. Let's put the Moose Jaw fans to shame.”
Rondeau got in on the action in the third game of the series scoring a goal that forced overtime before Quinn Sherdahl won it for Swift Current.
“Goals are tough to come by in the playoffs,” Rondeau said. “It's a new game. It's a battle to the bitter end. There's bodies flying everywhere, it's tougher getting to the net and it's just a hardcore battle out there. Anytime you can add to the team's success it's not only huge for yourself but it's huge for the team.”
The Broncos and Warriors were pretty evenly matched in the series. Moose Jaw finished only six points ahead of Swift Current in the standings in 1998-99. In similar fashion they finished five points up on the Broncos this season.
The 1999 series ended up 3-1 in Moose Jaw's favour before the Broncos stole game five in Moose Jaw to force another trip back home.
Swift Current had current NHL bench boss Todd McLellan at the helm at the time and he helped inspire them during what was quite a battle.
“Todd was a great coach,” Rondeau noted. “He was just as engaged and excited as we were. He played a huge role it getting us motivated for the playoffs... trying to get the best out of each guy. He knew how to get in everybody's head and try to get the best out of them going into playoffs. The boys need (coach Manny Viveiros) now to help them get energized for the playoffs and get that last little bit of energy they can pull out.”
As an active alumnus who now works at MNP and co-chairs the annual Broncos golf tournament every summer, Rondeau keeps a close eye on the current group. He's hopeful they can come up with a better result than his team did against the Warriors almost two decades ago.
“I'm thinking our boys are going to have a good chance,” Rondeau says. “It's going to be a tough series for sure, but if we get our fans out and provide the boys some support they will feed off that energy and hopefully score a victory.”
When that 1999 series did shift back to Swift Current it ended in ultimate heartbreak. Brent Hobday scored the series winner with only 23 seconds left to play in the third period as Moose Jaw won game six by a 3-2 score and ended the Broncos' season.
The loss also put an end to Rondeau's junior career as he graduated from the WHL.
Looking back on the emotion of that moment he had some advice for the 2017 Broncos.
“Knowing my career and ending it in '99 after six games,” Rondeau said. “You can't come back to that. It's done and it's over. You've got to find a way to leave everything you can possibly leave on the ice. You can't take it with you.”
The fourth ever WHL playoff series between the Swift Current Broncos and Moose Jaw Warriors starts Friday night at Mosaic Place. You can hear the action on The Eagle 94.1 FM with Robertson Family Group Broncos Hockey at 6:30pm.
The series shifts to Swift Current for games three and four on Tuesday and Wednesday.