Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Blades are legit for real

Josh Paterson (#61) leads a rush out of his own end for the Blades.
    The Saskatoon Blades have become one of the teams you don’t want to see if you are an upper echelon club in the WHL.
    Having missed the playoffs for three straight seasons since hosting the Memorial Cup in 2013, the Blades were usually chalked up as somewhat of an automatic win game by their opponents. The current campaign could have been a write off too, when you consider their best player in centre Cameron Hebig hasn’t played since suffering an upper body injury in the pre-season and a number of the team’s other top players have missed big stretches due to injury.
    The injury bug also took right-winger Mason McCarty out of the Saskatoon lineup with a lower body injury suffered on Nov. 25, 2016 in a 3-2 home victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings. The 19-year-old Blackie, Alta., product still isn’t expected to return for some time.
Braylon Shmyr had two goals and an assist for the Blades.
    Despite the injuries, Dean Brockman, who is in his first year guiding the Blades as head coach, seems to find a way to keep the team pushing forward by believing in the healthy guys that dress. Having put together a storied career as a bench boss of the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, Brockman always believes good people make good players, and it appears he is surrounded by a lot of good people in the Blades dressing room.
    As the season has gone on, the Blades players have shown noticeable improvement. On Wednesday night at the SaskTel Centre, they faced a measuring stick game against the Central Division leading Medicine Hat Tigers.
    The Blades lost their three previous encounters with the Tigers this season by a combined score of 19-6. When the two clubs last met at the SaskTel Centre on Nov. 26, 2016, the Tigers skated the Blades out of the rink to the tune of an 8-2 drubbing.
    Effort wise after that loss, the Blades didn’t pack it in. Instead, they manufactured one of their big turning points with a 2-1 overtime upset victory over the Pats in Regina on Dec. 10, 2016. The Pats have topped the Canadian Hockey League’s top 10 rankings for much of the campaign.
Logan Flodell has been stellar all season in goal for the Blades.
    That road win was the biggest victory of the season for the Blades. Still, they were in search of a defining home win over a top caliber club.
    On Wednesday against the Tigers, the Blades showed they were a much different team than the last time the two clubs met coming away with a 5-3 victory. The Tigers, who fell to 30-14-1, held a 51-28 edge in shots on goal, but it never felt like the Blades were in trouble even when the visitors carried play.
    The first key to the win was the play of netminder Logan Flodell, who made 48 saves to pick up the win in goal. Flodell has been stellar all season, and gives the Blades a chance to win every night.
    It should also be noted that Brock Hamm, who is the Blades other goalie, has played well in his last seven starts after being in what seemed like a slump that would never end. Brockman should be given credit for sticking with Hamm for a lot longer than most coaches would.
Michael Farren gets the puck out of the Blades own zone.
    The Tigers carried play to start Wednesday’s encounter, but the Blades calmly weathered the storm. In the last 5:23 of the opening frame, the hosts exploded for three goals as left-winger Braylon Shmyr scored twice, and overage centre Jesse Shynkaruk netted his first of two on the night. All three tallies came off good set ups in the offensive zone.
    Centre Logan Christensen score at the 2:02 mark of the second to put Saskatoon up 4-0.
    As any top rate team would do, the Tigers battled back. Near the midway point of the second, import defenceman Kristians Rubins blasted home a goal on the power play, and centre James Hamblin tucked home a tally on a penalty shot to cut the Blades edge to 4-2. At that point, there were thoughts that the Saskatoon lead could evaporate.
    The Tigers proceeded to get into penalty trouble, and while working a five-on-three power play, Shynkaruk netted his second of the contest on a nice feed in the slot to give Saskatoon a 5-2 edge.
Logan Christensen fires a snap jump shot on goal for the Blades.
    Left-winger Ryan Jevne scored for the Tigers early in the third to round out the game’s scoring.
In the win, Blades stayed composed and received strong shifts from all four of their forward lines. Their top unit of Shmyr, Shynkaruk and Josh Paterson combined for four goals and three assists.
    Right-winger Caleb Fantillo proved he could fulfil the pest role for the Blades. He got under the skin of Tigers goalie Michael Bullion in the first period and withstood a big blocker shot from the netminder. Bullion made 23 stops taking the loss in the Tigers net.
    The Blades defense seems more solid especially after they acquired Clavet product Evan Fiala in a trade with the Spokane Chiefs before the WHL Christmas break. Fiala, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds, is a physical presence in front of the net who is tough to play against.
    The Blades were missing that type of presence on the back end before Fiala’s arrival. Fiala is also popular in local hockey circles, which is another bonus.
Tigers goalie Michael Bullion decks Blades left-winger Caleb Fantillo.
    With the win over the Tigers before a sparse crowd of 2,608, the Blades improved their winning streak to three games and their record to 18-22-5-1. At the moment, Saskatoon sits eighth overall and holds the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    They sit two points ahead of the Edmonton Oil Kings (18-22-3-1) and the Calgary Hitmen (17-20-4-2) in the standings. The Oil Kings and Hitmen have two and three games respectively in hand on the Blades.
    The Blades are a legitimate participant in the race to make the playoffs. They have also found the ingredients to beat top teams like the Pats and Tigers.
    What the Blades don’t have are enough pieces to content for a league title or a Memorial Cup, but they present a big headache to any opponent that crosses their path. Any of the Eastern Conference’s top teams would have to be weary of any possible post-season encounter with the Blades.

Lazaruk calls his 1,700 game

Les Lazaruk calls his 1,700th game as the Blades play-by-play voice.
    Les Lazaruk hit a milestone on Wednesday calling his 1,700th game as the play-by-play voice of the Blades.
    Lazaruk began calling Blades games at the start of the 1994-95 season after spending over a decade working in Winnipeg, which included 10-and-a-half years hosting the hour long pre-game and post-game shows of the original Winnipeg Jets game broadcasts for CJOB radio.
    During his time calling games in the WHL, Lazaruk has built a reputation for being one of the best in the business. He also bring a great professionalism and class to his trade. Fans also love his trademark energetic calls of Blades goals.
    Lazaruk has become so closely branded with Blades broadcasts you almost couldn’t imagine another person making those calls.
    Lazaruk will make his next call on Friday, when the Blades host the Brandon Wheat Kings at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

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