The Broncos have churned out blue-chip defenders in recent years, but this season’s best draft hopefuls actually work up front. Forwards Jake Debrusk and Glenn Gawdin talk two-way play and the benefits of playing in the Western League’s smallest market.
Swift Current, Saskatchewan is home to around 15,500 people, making it the smallest market in all of major junior. But that hasn’t stopped the local Broncos from forging an illustrious history in the Western League, with alumni such as Joe Sakic, Geoff Sanderson and Brent Sopel, plus two playoff titles and a Memorial Cup championship in 1989.
The town has a movie theater and that’s the main source of non-hockey entertainment for the Broncos. Draft prospects Jake DeBrusk and Glenn Gawdin both cited Dumb and Dumber To as their favorite recent flick, but these kids have shown a lot more promise than Harry and Lloyd.
In the past couple seasons, Swift Current has been prodigious at churning out NHL draft prospects on defense, from Julius Honka and Dillon Heatherington to Brett Lernout and Brycen Martin. But this year, it’s all about the two kids up front, both of whom have the potential to go top-60 in the 2015 draft this summer.
DeBrusk and Gawdin play on different lines, but both pose problems for other teams. DeBrusk leads the team in scoring with 33 goals and 57 points in 54 games, causing havoc with his quickness and work ethic.
“Jake DeBrusk has really impressed me,” said one scout. “Tireless worker. Almost has that 200-foot game, because he plays in all three zones, but he’s not a power forward: He will outhustle and outsmart you.”
The son of former NHL enforcer Louie DeBrusk, Jake is not the intimidator that his dad was, though the name on the back of his jersey did open him up to challenges when his career in Swift Current began.
“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “I got a couple invites, but they quickly found out I wasn’t like him. I prefer to take a couple shots, get them in the box and score on the power play – hurt ’em where it really counts.”
The man advantage is where he and Gawdin do play together. Gawdin, a defensively responsible center, can do a little bit of everything out there.
“He has improved quite a bit,” said the scout. “Gawdin can skate. He’s got skill, he’s got hockey sense and he plays on the power play. Very good faceoff guy. The coach will put him out in key situations, then take him off.”
Mastering the faceoff dot is usually something that comes with age, but the 17-year-old works at his craft and has a few different strategies. In the defensive zone, he just wants to win, but in the opponent’s end, he can be more versatile.
“The key is strength,” Gawdin said. “That’s how I try to win them. And on the other side, it’s quickness – I try to beat them before they get their stick down.”
With Gawdin hailing from Richmond, B.C., directly south of Vancouver, and DeBrusk calling Edmonton home, the pair were in for a bit of an eye-opener when they arrived in tiny Swift Current, but the charms of the small town quickly became obvious to them.
“I like it,” Gawdin said. “There’s not much to distract you from hockey. One of the best things is that you’re always with your team – everyone’s close to each other.”
And there is no mistaking Swift Current for anything but a hockey town, which is also cool for the teenagers.
“Everyone in town loves the Broncos and they’re great fans,” DeBrusk said. “It’s cool having little chit-chats with people when you go to get a coffee at Timmy’s. We’re kind of the focus there, so we’re like mini-celebrities.”
And that status will only rise if the Broncos can make some noise in the playoffs. Right now, Swift Current sits third in an unbalanced East Division, with Brandon and Regina far ahead but Prince Albert seven points behind (and Swift Current with two games in hand).
The odds of another WHL title this season are long, but with DeBrusk and Gawdin on the grind, the Broncos won’t have to worry about effort.