Saturday, 14 January 2017

Grinder turns scorer, MacKenzie delivers winner in Blades rally

Lukus MacKenzie celebrates scoring the winner for the Blades.
    You have to love it when the hard working grinder steps into the spotlight.
    On Saturday night at the SaskTel Centre, gritty 17-year-old left-winger Lucus MacKenzie of the Saskatoon Blades resembled the team’s former high scoring captain Derek Hulak for a moment. With the Blades locked in a 2-2 tie with the visiting Red Deer Rebels and killing a penalty, MacKenzie saw a Rebels player fumble with the puck near the Red Deer blue-line.
    MacKenzie zipped in and picked up the puck to create a short-handed breakaway opportunity. The Calgary product sniped a smart shot low to left side of the Red Deer goal past netminder Lasse Petersen to put the hosts up 3-2.
    Tally was just the sixth goal of the season for MacKenzie, and it stood up as the winner. The Blades later added an empty-net goal to seal a 4-2 victory before 3,173 spectators.
    “I was thinking change first, but I saw the guy bobble it there,” said MacKenzie. “I knew I had the speed to kind of get a chance there, so I gambled and it paid off.
    “I know how to make a goalie slide, and that is what I try to do on breakaways. I just opened him up and slid it through there.”
Blades D Evan Fiala battles Rebels LW Evan Polei (#10).
    Following his breakaway short-handed winner, MacKenzie put on an exuberant celebration. Back in 2014, the Blades selected MacKenzie in the third round and 60th overall in the WHL Bantam Draft after he tallied 21 goals and 45 assists in 59 games with the Edge School bantam prep team in Calgary.
    So far in his WHL career, MacKenzie, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 198 pounds, has become known for his work ethic and his commitment to battle. Noticeable offensive outbursts like his goal on Saturday have been rare.
    “It was nice to get rewarded there,” said MacKenzie, who was a plus-two in the plus-minus department. “We were battling all game. We never quit. It was good to get that one for the team.
    “I just go hard. I try to get the crowd fired up and the team fired up. That is what I try to do.”
Blades RW Lukus MacKenzie looks for an opening in the offensive zone.
    Saturday’s encounter was a physical contest that could have swung either way. The Blades got the only goal in the first period, when 16-year-old rookie winger Michael Farren slipped home his fourth goal of the season early in the frame to give the hosts a 1-0 edge.
    In the second, the Rebels went ahead 2-1 thanks to a pair of tallies from overage left-winger Evan Polei. Polei tipped home a knuckleball point shot to tie things up at 1-1, and he slipped home a backhander later in the frame to give the visitors a 2-1 edge.
    Saskatoon drew even at 2-2 at the 2:18 mark of the third, when Gage Ramsay fired home the equalizer through a screen while working on the power play. That set the stage for MacKenzie’s heroics that put the Blades on top for good.
    Blades head coach Dean Brockman was pleased to see MacKenzie break through on the scoresheet.
Jesse Shynkaruk charges up ice for the Blades.
    “I thought he has been working hard the last few games,” said Brockman. “He got rewarded.
    “He had a great chance in the second period that he didn’t bury. He was persistent and stayed with it and got his goal.”
    Overage centre Jesse Shynkaruk scored into an empty net with 16.7 seconds to play in the third. Logan Flodell made 20 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Blades (17-22-5-1). Petersen turned away 19 of 22 shots to take the loss in goal for the Rebels (20-18-4-2).
    With the win, the Blades pull into a tie for eighth place overall and the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with the Edmonton Oil Kings (18-22-3-1). Both teams have 40 points in the standings, but the Oil Kings have a game in hand.
The Blades salute the crowd after their 4-2 win over the Rebels.
    Brockman said it is important for his squad to win contests now in the push for a playoff berth noting the intensity of games in the regular season will pick up in February and March.
    The bench boss was pleased with the come-from-behind win against the Rebels. Saturday marked the fourth time this season the Blades rallied for a victory after entering the third period trailing on the scoreboard.
    “It is important that you comeback on teams,” said Brockman. “When we got that goal early (in the third), I felt the momentum switched for us.
    “In order to climb in the standings, you have to win games. You have to do all the catching now.”
    The Blades return to action on Wednesday, when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers at 7 p.m. local time at the SaskTel Centre.
    The Rebels travel to Swift Current on Sunday to take on the Broncos at 4 p.m. local time at the Credit Union i-Plex.

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