Saturday, 23 January 2016

Hebig hits stride with Blades

Cameron Hebig has exploded offensively for the Blades.
    When Cameron Hebig achieves a milestone, he automatically sets his sites on a higher goal.
    After his hometown Saskatoon Blades selected him in the third round and 56th overall in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, Hebig saw that moment as an opportunity he wanted to take advantage of.
    “I just wanted to make it a goal of mine to make it into the WHL,” said Hebig. “The goals just keep getting hirer and hirer. I am always setting goals.”
    The speedy centre cracked the Blades lineup as a 16-year-old in the 2013-14 campaign. With the Blades having turned over most of their roster after hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup, Hebig received a lot of opportunity to gain experience and picked up 13 goals and 13 assists in 67 games.
    Having learned what the grind of the circuit was about, Hebig set out to improve his game in both the offensive and defensive zones as a 17-year-old sophomore last season. He dressed for all of the Blades 72 regular season games picking 18 goals and 22 assists.
    This season Hebig has become a force offensively piling up 22 goals and 27 assists in 43 games.
    “I just had a good start to the year and have just been positive,” said Hebig, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 190 pounds. “I think if you are working hard chances will come, and you just have to bury those.
    “I’ve been grateful for the points I have got and just keep going.”
    In their third season since hosting the Memorial Cup, the Blades are still going through growing pains. After jumping out to a strong 7-4-3 start, the Blades, who still have one of the youngest teams in the WHL, hit the wall in the middle of November. After falling 6-2 to the Brandon Wheat Kings before 4,637 spectators on Saturday night at the SaskTel Centre, Saskatoon’s record dropped to 17-27-4.
    Hebig’s jump has not waivered during the down stretches. On Saturday night, he netted both of the Blades goals on a couple of nice shots and was a plus-two in the plus-minus department. On his second tally, he stole the puck from a Wheat Kings defender, used another rearguard as a screen and tucked a shot home past netminder Logan Thompson.
Cameron Hebig celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal.
    “He (Hebig) is our best player, and he brings it every night,” said Blades head coach and general manager Bob Woods. “He is not a real vocal guy, but he leads by example because of his work ethic.
    “He is a big part of our offence, so we really depend on him to take care of that.”
    Woods believes a missed goal helped kick Hebig into another gear this season.
    “I think not getting drafted (into the NHL) was kind of not a wakeup call, but he just didn’t like it,” said Woods. “He worked extremely hard this summer on his game.
    “We talked a little bit about just being the complete player. I thought last year maybe he didn’t do the things that he has to do. He is a skilled player, but he is not skilled enough to live on that.
    “He has to be that guy that can kills penalties and block shots and play good defensively. I think he has really come through with that, and I think that is a big reason why he is having more success.”
    Hebig prides himself in playing a strong two-way game. On the intangible side, he finds he just doesn’t get down on himself or his team when things get rough.
    While the Blades trail the Edmonton Oil Kings (19-22-6-1) by seven points for the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, Hebig believes it is still possible for his club to make an appearance in the post-season.
Cameron Hebig looks to make a play in the offensive zone for the Blades.
    “We’ve got a good group here, and we believe in ourselves,” said Hebig. “When things get tough, we can’t pack it in. We always have to bring it every game and always try to get better.
    “Obviously, we want to make the playoff push. It is a goal of ours. It is just about sticking together as a team and playing together. Anything is possible.”
    When it comes to making the NHL, Hebig’s lack of size might be the biggest obstacle he has to overcome. He is quick to point out you don’t have to be 6-foot-2 and weigh over 200 pounds to make an impact in the NHL.
    The shifty skater lists off Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens and Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins as smaller players that have made an impact in hockey’s top professional league. Gallagher and Marchand both stand 5-foot-9, while Johnson is 5-foot-8.
    “When you are small, you just have to use your speed and show that you can play there and show that you are worthy of a draft pick,” said Hebig, who is rated 140th among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings. “I don’t like the size comparison. I think it is what is in the heart.”
Cameron Hebig gets set to take a draw for the Blades.
    In Saturday’s tilt with Brandon, the Wheat Kings, who top the WHL’s East Division with a 29-13-2-2 mark, led 2-1 after the first period and 5-2 after the second frame after Hebig gave the Blades a short-lived 1-0 edge.
    Reid Duke had a hat trick for the Wheat Kings, who received a two-goal performance from Jayce Hawryluk and a single from John Quenneville. Thompson made 18 stops to earn the win in goal.
Brock Hamm turned away 25 shots to take the loss in net for the Blades.
    The Blades return to action Friday, when they travel to Regina to take on the Pats. The Wheat Kings are in Regina to face the Pats on Sunday.

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