Swift Current is an agricultural and oil-industry hub on the prairie of Saskatchewan. (City of Swift Current)

Swift Current is an agricultural and oil-industry hub on the prairie of Saskatchewan. (City of Swift Current)

Silvertips fans: Meet the enemy stronghold of Swift Current

Home of the Broncos, Saskatchewan’s seventh-biggest city is a hard-core hockey town on the prairie.

EVERETT — Swift Current, a small city almost 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away in the heart of hockey country, is set to host the Everett Silvertips in one of junior hockey’s biggest competitions.

The city uses the metric system and the Queen’s English, spends in loonies and toonies, and is a hub for nearby agriculture and oil industries. And it really, truly, deeply loves hockey. It’s the kind of place where the mayor gets calls from people begging for tickets.

Swift Current, Saskatchewan, will host the Silvertips for the Western Hockey League championship, a best-of-seven series that begins Friday evening. Since 1986, it has been the home of the Broncos, who claimed the Western Hockey League East Division this season.

Both Everett and Swift Current recently have resurgent downtowns that tout an ice arena, and they’re about to engage in some unofficial cultural exchange.

Swift Current Mayor Denis Perrault has owned Broncos season tickets since his family moved back to his wife’s hometown in 2004. He sits in Section P, behind the opposing team’s bench, with his “hockey family” and actual family. He is such an avid fan that he plans on traveling with his 7-year-old son to Everett for the games next week as a possible once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t have a driver’s license,” he said. “And in 25 years, I’ll be collecting a pension, just to put in perspective how big this is.

“We don’t know when it’s gonna happen again.”

Driving from there to here would take about 16 hours by the most direct route that winds from Everett to Spokane, north through Idaho and across the border into Canada, then east along the Trans-Canada Highway. That road connects Swift Current with neighboring rival Western Hockey League teams in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw and Regina.

Swift Current is a hockey town, through and through. Marlene Johnson, executive assistant to the mayor, said banners with a different member of the Broncos, even mascot Charlie Horse, are affixed to the light standards near the arena.

“Growing up in Saskatchewan, it’s a lot of hockey,” said Steven Mah, the sports reporter for the city’s free weekly newspaper, The Southwest Booster.

The paper’s managing editor, Scott Anderson, agreed.

“People grow up on outdoor rinks,” said Anderson, who has worked for the weekly paper since 1993. “That’s recreation in winter: putting the skates on and going outside on a nice day.”

Downtown Swift Current, Saskatchewan (City of Swift Current)

Downtown Swift Current, Saskatchewan (City of Swift Current)

Outside town is a lot of open land — farms, fields, forests, and oil and gas operations. Proximity to Great Sand Hills and Grasslands National Park and its location on one of the main highways, makes Swift Current a hub.

Swift Current’s population of 16,600 is akin to Monroe (18,408 according to the U.S. Census in 2016) and Arlington (19,112). Everett has more than 100,000 residents. The Canadian city ranks as the seventh-most-populous in its province. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police held a town hall meeting last week to focus attention on safety, the conversation veered toward garbage not being collected fast enough and people getting too many parking tickets, Perrault said.

The median total income of Swift Current households was 72,998 Canadian dollars in 2015, which is equivalent to about $56,780 under current exchange rates. Everett’s median household income was $50,933 in 2016.

Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett can seat 8,149 people for hockey games. Swift Current’s arena has a capacity of 2,890, and it’s been that packed plenty of times this season. Demand for tickets to this weekend’s games was so high that the city and the club partnered to turn the nearby curling rink into a tailgate and viewing party. All of those proceeds will go to the city’s curling club, the Broncos and the Humboldt Broncos, which experienced tragedy this year when 16 people were killed in a bus crash.

“My phone won’t quit ringing with people looking for tickets, thinking the mayor can get them tickets,” Perrault said.

Games at the Innovation Credit Union iPlex have regularly sold out since the Jan. 10 trade deadline, averaging 2,512 people per game this season. That’s equivalent to more than one-fifth of the city’s population pouring into the seats. Attendance bloomed 25 percent from last season to now.

“In the last while, we haven’t been the rowdiest fan base,” sports reporter Mah said. “But since the trade deadline, the crowd has been really energized … There’s the constant ringing of cowbells during games now.”

Sound familiar? Silvertips fans are happy to get rowdy with their cowbells — during the puck drop, after Everett goals, after a saved shot, at the end of a period, at the start of a period, at the end of a game.

Statistically speaking, the Broncos are a bit rough and tumble. Swift Current totaled 987 penalty minutes, an average of 13.7 per game, the second-most penalty minutes in their division and fifth highest in the entire league. Everett totaled 782 penalty minutes and an average of 10.9 per game, last in the U.S. Division. Their only meeting during the regular season ended in a Silvertips win after 14 combined penalties in Everett.

There was a bit of a black eye for Swift Current’s fans recently. The club issued a statement about fan behavior for the Broncos faithful and fans of nearby Moose Jaw and Regina, and changes to the seating for visiting fans were made. That’s a one-off incident, Perrault said, and was quickly addressed.

Even with that in the recent past, Swift Current shouldn’t be much of a problem for any Silvertips fans.

“I would chalk that up to a bit of a fan rivalry,” Mah said. “I wouldn’t expect anything like that against Everett.”

Perrault encouraged any would-be travelers from Everett to come see his city and discover its northern hospitality.

“We are a welcoming community,” he said. “If there’s anyone from Everett interested in coming, try your best to get tickets. If not, we’ve got the game on the big screen next door.”

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037. Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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