Sunday, 15 March 2015

“Ammer” an answer for Blades

Blades goaltender Nik Amundrud focuses on the play coming up ice.
    As the Saskatoon Blades continue to retool and rebuild, the position they likely won't have to tinker with is in goal.
    When it comes to any level of hockey, the goaltending position always faces the most scrutiny and the most pressure. A team needs to be sold in net, if it has any hope of victory.
    The Blades appear to have two good ones in Nik Amundrud and Brock Hamm, who are both rookies in their 17-year-old seasons of eligibility. Amundrud joined the Blades shortly after the start of the regular season in trade with the Everett Silvertips, which saw star forward Nikita Scherbak leave the Bridge City. Hamm joined the Blades in January from the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan junior A ranks after a goaltending spot opened up when Trevor Martin was dealt to the Red Deer Rebels.
    Out of the two puckstoppers, Amundrud has the bigger sample size of work to grade as he has been with the Blades pretty much for the whole campaign. Over the course of the season, his improvement curve has been very good. Had he been on a club that is just sneaking into the playoffs that has a little bit of a scoring punch, he is at the point that he might be able to create an upset in the first round and turn some heads.
    As it is, the Melfort product should be given big credit for doing his part to give the Blades a chance to win on most nights. On the season, his 7-22-2 record, 3.94 goals against average and .895 save percentage aren't going to raise too many looks. The fact he has managed to post three shutout victories should.
Amundrud turns away a Wheat Kings' scoring chance.
    Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 165 pounds, Amundrud has developed a reputation for making acrobatic type saves. Playing on a team that is last in the WHL at 19-47-4, Amundrud has faced all sorts of quality scoring chances on a nightly basis.
    He has makes numerous tough stops game in and game out to keep the Blades alive in games. Eventually, the volume of good chances he faces does ended up catching up to him, which sees the opposition pot enough goals to skate away with victory.
    Being a rookie 17-year-old goaltender in the WHL is huge challenge for anyone to face at any point in time. Amundrud's challenge has been that much bigger.
    With the Blades working hard to rebuild their roster from hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup and from loading up for the 2011 post-season, Amundrud has seen a revolving door of players arrive and leave the team's dressing room. At times, he would see the person he became a best friend with get deal off to another city.
    Thanks to all these moves, Amundrud has had various players playing out in front of him, who are all at different points in their respective learning curves. On the young squad, he has arguably had the most consistent effort.
    Under an optimal situation, a rookie 17-year-old or 16-year-old goaltender will enter the WHL and be an apprentice backup to an established veteran who helps show the youngster the ropes. During the second half of the season, Amundrud hasn't had that luxury.
    He has been paired with another talented youngster in Hamm. In half a season, Hamm has posted a 6-7 record with a 3.61 goals against average and a .904 save percentage.
    Before joining the Blades, Hamm was able to build up confidence posting a 2.72 goals against average and a .918 save percentage in 21 starts in Humboldt in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, where he had a 9-10 record.
    Amundrud faced a situation that could have broken his confidence. He wasn't going to have any easy nights. If he struggled, the Blades would have no chance to win.
Nik Amundrud gets set in the Blades' goal.
    The fact his confidence wasn't shattered shows he has good character. On Saturday at the SaskTel Centre, Amundrud was putting up another 33-save gem against the Brandon Wheat Kings, who lead the WHL with a 51-11-4-3 record. The Wheaties are so deep this year that everyone one of their forward lines and defensive pairings is good.
    Still, the tilt before 6,718 spectators went into the third period locked in a 1-1 tie. Brandon potted two goals in the third to pull out a 3-1 victory.
    The Blades are making smart player moves, and it is fair to say their roster next season will be better than it was this season. Goaltending is always a tough thing to judge and Hamm may be the guy that ultimately carries the load or two other netminders might be brought in to take out the current incumbents.
    What Amundrud has done has been impressive. He has given them a chance to win and be in almost every game he has started. With the experience he has gained, you have to believe he will be even better in his sophomore season.
    As other parts of the team are tinkered with, it is nice to know you have someone to rely on in goal.

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