Sunday, 9 December 2018

Blades return to nemesis role against rival Raiders

Raiders captain Brayden Pachal (#8) battles Blades centre Kirby Dach.
    The rivalry just heated up to another level.
    If there were any questions about encounters between the Prince Albert Raiders and Saskatoon Blades having a renewed intensity, the two teams cleared up those doubts on Sunday at the SaskTel Centre. In the third clash of the WHL regular season between the two clubs, the Raiders entered the contest as clear favourites having gone 28-1-0-1 over their first 30 games and being voted the top rated club in the CHL’s Top 10 rankings.
    The Raiders had dumped the Blades in their first two encounters of the campaign including a 4-1 result in Prince Albert on Sept. 30 and 6-2 final in Saskatoon on Oct. 14.
Blades RW Riley McKay (#39) battles Raiders LW Parker Kelly (#27).
    On Sunday before 6,334 spectators that included a healthy contingent of Raiders supporters, the Blades gutted out a 1-0 victory behind a 32-save shutout performance from star 17-year-old netminder Nolan Maier.
    With the win, the Blades improved to 19-10-3 to sit fourth overall in the WHL with 41 points in the standings. The Red Deer Rebels sit a point back of the Blades holding two games in hand with a 19-9-2 record.
    The Raiders fell to 28-2-0-1 with the setback to Saskatoon but still remain first overall in the WHL. Prince Albert was 21-0-0-1 in its previous 22 contests before falling to the Blades.
    Last season, the Blades won six of their eight head-to-head encounters with the Raiders, where one of the two losses came in extra time.
Blades RW Max Gerlach battles a Raiders player.
    When asked if the Blades has re-established themselves as the nemesis of the Raiders, Maier gave a telling answer.
    “I think so,” said Maier. “With their confidence and their kind of record going into this year, they don’t really feel like we are competition to them.
    “I think we proved them wrong tonight.”
    Maier admitted the Blades did get a little tired of hearing how good the Raiders are and have been this season. He said his side had a pretty good record too so far this season and believes Sunday’s victory by the Blades will turn heads around the league.
    “This is huge,” said Maier. “We were talking about it before in the room saying that this was a statement game to be heard around the whole league.
    “I think we really put it to work. I think it shows.
    “I think we just kind of played with that extra grit like we need to just being a rival. I think it just paid off for us.”
    The two squads played through an even first period, which saw the Blades kill off four straight Raiders power plays.
    At the 5:14 mark of the second period, the Blades netted the game’s only goal. Tristen Robins, who is a 17-year-old rookie centre, got the puck from 19-year-old defenceman Nolan Kneen, broke down the left wing and roofed a shot to the top right corner of the Prince Albert goal past Raiders netminder Ian Scott.
Raiders captain Brayden Pachal (#8) hits Blades LW Eric Florchuk.
    Robins goal resulted in fans throwing a flood of teddy bears in the ice, because Sunday’s contest was the Blades teddy bear toss night.
    While the Blades were helping clear the ice surface, Maier moved off to have a moment by himself.
    “I think I just tried to keep focused,” said Maier. “I don’t know if you guys were watching.
    “I kind of stayed on the bench the whole time drinking my water and just not getting caught up in the moment. I think it kind of worked out in the end.”
    Robins played a gritty game and made a couple of key plays in the defensive zone including calmly skating the puck out of harm’s way during a third period net scramble around Maier.
Blades 17-year-old centre Kirby Dach arguably had one of his best games despite not recording a point. 
The Blades celebrate the lone goal in Sunday’s clash with the Raiders.
    He initiated contact when the play got physical and didn’t allow himself to be pushed around.
Dach confronted Raiders captain Brayden Pachal in the third period after Pachal wiped out Dach’s linemate Eric Florchuk. Pachal was given a boarding penalty on the play.
    The Blades received a huge shutdown game from their top defensive pairing of Brandon Schuldhaus and Kneen. Schuldhaus, who is an overager, was acquired in a trade early in the campaign with the Moose Jaw Warriors, while Kneen was a more recent acquisition in trade with the Kamloops Blazers.
    Saskatoon ended the scoring run of Raiders star right-winger Brett Leason, who had points in all of the Raiders first 30 games. Leason leads the WHL in scoring with 28 goals and 36 assists for 64 points.
Tristen Robins scored the Blades goal on Sunday.
    With 5:51 remaining in the third, the shots on goal for the contest were even at 27-27.
Maier proceeded to slam the door to prevent a Raiders comeback.
    After the Raiders pulled Scott for an extra attacker, Maier made a huge glove save on Raiders overage centre Noah Gregor and somehow saw and stoned Leason on a screen shot from the point.
    Prince Albert had one last offensive zone faceoff with 8.1 seconds to play in the frame, and Maier stopped one final Raider shot off a faceoff play to secure a Blades victory.
    Maier said he was in a good spot mentally in the third period noting he has had the odd rocky patch so far this season.
    “I think I felt really good,” said Maier. “I was kind of back to my old self there a little bit.
    “I think our team really played well. If we keep the number one team in the CHL under 20 shots in the (first) 40 minutes, I think is a kind of congratulations to us. I got a shutout, so it kind of glorifies everything.
    “I thought our forwards played real well, and our D-men, they were awesome in not letting them get too much. I can’t thank them enough for that.” 
Blades D Brandon Schuldhaus helps pick stuffed toys off the ice.
    Scott turned away 26 shots taking the setback in goal for the Raiders.
    The Blades return to action on Tuesday when they host the Edmonton Oil Kings at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    The Raiders return to Prince Albert, and they will host the Oil Kings on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. Prince Albert will be without Leason and Scott for that contest and the foreseeable future as they depart to Victoria, B.C., for the selection camp for Canada’s world junior team that starts Tuesday and runs through to Friday.
    Going forward, Maier said the Blades have an extra jump in their step now that they have beaten the Raiders.
The Blades celebrate their victory on Sunday night.
    “It feels great,” said Maier. “Knowing that we can play with the top team in the CHL is a real confidence booster for us.”

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