Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Blades are good but bumps in the road will still happen

Gary Haden has been on fire for the Blades.
    Saskatoon Blades are learning that getting to the top part of the WHL standings is one thing but staying there is another.
    Going into the current campaign, I predicted the Blades would end their drought of not making the playoffs since 2013 and would qualify for the post-season in a comfortable fashion.
    With 16 games remaining on their regular season schedule, the Blades haven’t officially locked down a playoff berth, but they are in a comfortable position to make the post-season. They sit fourth overall in the WHL standings with a 31-13-8 record.
    On Tuesday, the Blades had a great night as they thumped the Wheat Kings 7-3 before 3,090 spectators at Westoba Place in Brandon. The Blades held a 1-0 lead after the first period and went up 3-1 before Brandon rallied for a 3-3 tie.
Saskatoon exited the second period with a 4-3 edge and rolled off three goals in the third.
    Star sophomore centre Kirby Dach recorded his second career WHL hat trick for the Blades, while Max Gerlach and Eric Florchuk both had two goal nights. Star left-winger Gary Haden had four assists for Saskatoon, while Ryan Hughes had three helpers for the visitors.
    Stelio Mattheos, Luka Burzan and Cole Reinhardt replied with singles for the Wheat Kings.
    Dorrin Luding turned away 25 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Blades. Ethan Kruger, who is a 17-year-old rookie, stopped 30 shots to take the setback in goal for the Wheat Kings (22-21-3-4).
    Most wouldn’t have envisioned the Blades sitting in the league’s top five for most of the campaign. I figured they might be sitting around 10th as far as the overall standings were concerned, so competing for a spot in the top five was beyond my expectations.
Kirby Dach had a hat trick for the Blades on Tuesday.
    With the effort they have put in to date, the Blades deserve to be sitting in the top five of the WHL standings.
    Still, they have experienced hiccup moments in recent weeks. The Blades have learned how to win, and now they are in the process of learning what it takes to hold the status of being one of the WHL’s top teams.
    One of the most recent spots the learning curve hit was on Jan. 26, when the Blades hosted the Swift Current Broncos at the SaskTel Centre. After winning the WHL title last season, the Broncos are in a major rebuild in the current campaign and sit last in the overall league standings.
    When the Blades and Broncos met on Jan. 26, Saskatoon controlled play for most of the contest and held a 4-2 lead heading into the final five minutes of the third period. With 4:39 remaining in the third period, Broncos captain Tanner Nagel scored on kind of a soft goal to cut the Saskatoon lead to 4-3.
    All of a sudden, the Broncos youngsters had life, and the Blades players seemed to grip their sticks. The Broncos tied things up to force overtime.
    In overtime, the Blades had a number of chances to get the win. Ultimately, Finnish import left-winger Joona Kiviniemi scored for the Broncos with 3.4 seconds remaining in the extra session to deliver the visitors to a 5-4 victory.
    Looking back, the Blades had to look at that contest as one they should have closed out. They picked up one point in the standings and let another point slip through their fingers.
    One day earlier, the Blades dumped the Broncos 5-2 in Swift Current thanks to a four-goal effort from Haden. Following that win, Blades supporters had to be scratching their heads about how the 5-4 overtime loss to the Broncos could materialize one night later in Saskatoon.
Max Gerlach scored twice for the Blades on Tuesday night.
    Last weekend, the Blades posted a 3-1 victory over Pats in Regina on Friday. While the Pats are in a major rebuild after hosting the Memorial Cup, they still play opponents incredibly hard under head coach David Struch, especially in their home rink.
    The Blades still skated away with full marks for the victory thanks to a 34 save performance by star netminder Nolan Maier and a two-goal night from Haden.
    On Saturday at the SaskTel Centre, the Blades hosted the Central Division leading Edmonton Oil Kings in a heavyweight tilt. The game was a barnburner and Saskatoon held a 3-2 lead going into the final four minutes of the third period.
    With 3:09 to play in the third, offensive defenceman Conner McDonald scored his second of two goals on the night to cause a 3-3 tie and force overtime. Just 30 seconds into overtime, star Oil Kings captain Trey Fix-Wolansky scored the winner to give the visitors a 4-3 victory. McDonald picked up an assist to complete a three-point night.
    While this overtime loss was to a tough opponent, those associated with the Blades had to feel it was tough to see the team get only one point instead of two in the standings due to falling in overtime. They outshot the Oil King 41-35 on the night.
    Still it has to be emphasized the Blades are in a position where they are trying to hold a spot in the top five in the league standings. That is a big step up from just falling short of capturing the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference like in the past two seasons.
    During the last two campaigns, the Blades saw a playoff berth fall through their hands over the final 10 games of the regular season.
    Those unsuccessful playoff pushes were a case of the team learning to crawl before learning to walk.
    At the moment, the glass is way more than half full for the Blades.
    Maier is having a solid sophomore campaign to follow up an outstanding rookie season posting a 25-9-6 record, a 2.76 goals against average, a .908 save percentage and two shutouts.
    Haden has been on fire collecting points in five consecutive games recording nine goals and four assists over that span of time. He has 25 goals and 27 assists in 48 games split between the Blades and the Medicine Hat Tigers this season.
Eric Florchuk had two goals for the Blades on Tuesday night.
    Gerlach, who is an overage right-winger, has 31 goals and 22 assists in 52 regular season games, and he has scored 30 or more goals for a fourth straight campaign, which marks every season he has been in the league.
    Star centre Kirby Dach is plugging along netting 21 goals and 34 assists to lead the Blades in scoring with 55 points in 48 regular season games. Offensive defenceman Dawson Davidson is second in team scoring with nine goals and 45 assists for 54 points appearing in all of his club’s 52 regular season games.
    Kyle Crnkovic, who is a 16-year-old rookie left-winger, provides excitement seemingly every time he touches the puck and is forming a fan following.
    Veteran blue-liners Brandon Schuldhaus and Nolan Kneen are a formidable defensive pair.
    Emil Malysjev, who is a 17-year-old rookie defenceman from Sweden, is improving at a rapid rate.
    First year head coach Mitch Love has a good understanding of the pulse of the team and what steps need to be taken to keep the club moving forward.
    The Blades are very much sitting in a good place. It is great they can keep learning and getting better from a position of strength.

Raiders return to form, rock Oil Kings

Brett Leason had a goal and two assists for the Raiders on Monday.
    The Prince Albert Raiders proved their point is showing the Edmonton Oil Kings the team they really were.
    On Friday, the Oil Kings, who lead the WHL’s Central Division, skated into Prince Albert and downed the Raiders, who top the entire WHL standings, 6-3 at the Art Hauser Centre. Following the game, the Raiders admitted to a man they didn’t have their best effort.
    When the two clubs met on Monday before 5,339 spectators at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the outcome was very much a different one.
    The Raiders, who are the top rated team in the CHL’s Top 10 rankings, held a 16-8 edge in shots on goal in the first period and exited the frame holding a 1-0 lead on a goal from 16-year-old rookie centre Ozzy Wiesblatt.
    Just 37 seconds into the second, the Oil Kings tied things up at 1-1, when centre Vince Loschiavo netted his 23rd goal of the season.
    At that point, the floodgates opened in a goal surge for the Raiders.
Parker Kelly scored for the Raiders on Monday.
    Before the second period ended, the Raiders jumped ahead 3-1 with power forward Parker Kelly netting his 24th goal of the season and star right-winger Brett Leason potting his 33rd goal of the campaign.
    In the third, 16-year-old rookie right-winger Jakob Brook and star left-winger Cole Fonstad each scored singles to round out a 5-1 victory for the Raiders. Fonstad’s goal was his 22nd tally of the season and is a new career high for the 18-year-old veteran.
    Leason had two assists to go along with his goal.
    Ian Scott turned away 25 shots as the Raiders improved their WHL leading record to 43-7-0-2. Todd Scott stopped 41 shots to take the setback in goal for the Oil Kings (29-16-4-4).
    Prince Albert won three out of the four head-to-head meetings with Edmonton this season.
    With the final result pretty much imbedded on the scoreboard, the contest contained a late third period fight between Raiders defenceman Loeden Schaufler and Oil Kings rearguard Parker Gavlas.
    Monday’s win was the start of a four game road trip for the Raiders. They return to action on Friday, when they travel to Calgary to face the Hitmen at the Calgary Corral at 7 p.m. Calgary time.
    On Tuesday, the Raiders became the first team this season to officially lock up a berth in the WHL playoffs, when the Saskatoon Blades dumped the Wheat Kings in Brandon 7-3.
    The Oil Kings return to action this coming Sunday, when they host the Regina Pats at 4 p.m. local time at Rogers Place.

Brook slew foot a bizarre moment

Josh Brook made an uncharacteristic gaff on Saturday.
    One of the weirdest moments in the WHL last weekend had to be the slew foot executed by Moose Jaw Warriors captain Josh Brook.
    On Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert, the final buzzer sounded as the host Raiders downed the visiting Warriors 4-3. At that moment, Brook, who is a 19-year-old star defenceman, slew footed Raiders import defenceman Sergei Sapego, who is from Belarus.
    As Brook was being led away from Sapego by the officials, a scrum ensued when Raiders right-winger Justin Nachbaur tried to get at Brook.
    Nachbaur ended up getting tangled up with Warriors centre Tristin Langan.
    When the dust settled, Nachbaur was given a fighting major and a game misconduct. Langan was assessed a minor penalty for leaving the penalty box, a fighting major and a game misconduct. He was in the penalty box after taking a checking from behind minor penalty with 67 seconds remaining in the third.
    Brook didn’t receive any infractions at the end of the contest.
    Having watched Brook play a number of times since he entered the WHL on a full-time basis in 2015-16, I thought the slew foot was out of character for him. The fact he slew footed an opponent that doesn’t have the history of being an agitator was even stranger.
Josh Brook (#2) skates away after slew footing Sergei Sapego.
    As a first reaction, I thought the WHL office might suspend Brook for one game, because the slew foot at the end of the game was a cheap shot. With that said, Brook doesn’t have a history of these sort of acts so it was possible this indiscretion might be overlooked.
    On Monday, the WHL suspended Nachbaur, who has a tough-guy aura, for three games, and Langan was suspended for one game.
    Nachbaur began serving his suspension on Monday, when the Raiders thumped the Oil Kings in Edmonton 5-1.
    No discipline came Brook’s way.
    While a clean past reputation might have helped Brook, he will likely be “Public Enemy #1” for the rest of the season when the Warriors visit Prince Albert. Raiders fans always seem to have long memories with regards to these sorts of incidents.

Honouring moms and billet moms is good for WHL teams

The Blades honour their mom and billet moms on January 2018.
    Here is hoping it becomes a trend for teams in the WHL to honour the moms and billet moms before one regular season game each season.
    The first team I saw do this was the Saskatoon Blades during their parents’ weekend last season. Before one of their home games on that weekend, the Blades brought the moms and billet moms of the players to the ice, and the players presented the moms with flowers.
The Raiders honour their moms and billet moms on Saturday.
    Pictures were taken with everyone together on the ice.
    The Blades did the same thing again this season as well.
    On Saturday in Prince Albert, the host Raiders had almost an identical ceremony for the moms and billet moms of their players before their 4-3 victory over the Moose Jaw Warriors.
    When I took pictures of one of the Blades ceremonies, I saw someone send a message on Twitter to another WHL club asking about doing something similar.
    The pre-game gesture is really meaningful to the moms and billet moms.
    I am not sure if the Blades were the first team to have this sort of ceremony, but I hope more WHL teams follow what the Blades and Raiders have done.

Beware of the Wildcats

Taylor Lind has sparked the surging Wildcats.
    The Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats might be the team you don’t want to meet as an opponent in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League playoffs this season.
    The Wildcats are riding an eight-game winning streak that started when they returned to action after their Christmas break. The streak has vaulted Swift Current into third place in the SFMAAAHL standings with a 14-9-1 record.
    The Wildcats have surpassed their win total from their 13-11-4 campaign last season.
    Star captain Taylor Lind has piled up an incredible 14 goals and 12 assists during the winning streak. The skilled and gritty centre leads the SFMAAAHL in scoring with 23 goals and 30 assists for 53 points.
    The Shaunavon, Sask., product is the second all-time leading scorer in the history of the SFMAAAHL. Lind has one more season of midget eligibility remaining and could have returned to take a solid run at being the circuit’s all-time leading scorer.
    She is set to graduate from high school a year early and will play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks next season for the Lindenwood University Lions women’s hockey team in St. Charles, Missouri.
    Lind is the type of player that can will her team to new heights, and you can bet she will do her best to leave a mark in her final appearance in the SFMAAAHL playoffs.
Sara Kendall is having a career season for the Wildcats.
    This season, Lind has really improved as a playmaker, which helps bring extra confidence to her teammates. Linemate Sara Kendall, who is in her 16-year-old season, has career highs in goals (15) and assists (12) playing alongside Lind.
    Veteran 17-year-old forward Carissa Hogan has 11 goals and 13 assists and has come through in the clutch with a team-leading five game winning goals.
    Forward Ashlee Wolfe has found another gear in her 16-year-old season posting career highs in goals (seven) and assists (10).
    The Wildcats are anchored by a solid crew on defence in 16-year-old Maddy McCleary and 17-year-old veterans Kate Wagner and Tobi Fontaine.
    The team’s netminders in 15-year-old Amaya Girauder and 17-year-old Harper Davey are capable of doing big things, and if they get a big shot of confidence from this string of success, they could give the Wildcats another kick upwards in the confidence department.
    It should be noted that the Wildcats haven’t beaten the other three teams sitting in the top four of the SFMAAAHL standings in the Saskatoon Stars, Regina Rebels and Prince Albert Northern Bears during their winning streak.
    Still, winning brings a lot of confidence, and the Wildcats will have had lot of opportunity to smooth out their team game.
    If they win their final four games in regulation, they will lock up a third place finish.
    The Wildcats return to action on Saturday, when they host the Melville Prairie Fire at 11:30 a.m. at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex.
    How far will the Wildcats roll go?

Hounds slip past Gold Wings 5-2

The Gold Wings celebrated a pair of goals on Tuesday.
    A three-goal first period surge helped power the Notre Dame Hounds to a fourth straight win.
    On Tuesday at Crescent Point Place in Weyburn, the Hounds opened up a 3-0 lead in the first period and skated to a 5-2 victory over the host Richardson Pioneer Gold Wings in a Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League regular season contest. The Hounds held a 3-1 lead after the first period and a 4-2 edge after the second frame.
    Sophie Young scored the first two goals of the game for the Hounds, who received singles from Anna-Liese King, Raea Gilroy and Claire Nimegeers. Lyndsey Janes had three assists for the Hounds, while Kaitlyn Gilroy had two helpers.
    Mia Chretien and Sierra Meroniuk replied with singles for the Gold Wings. Payton Mabee had two assists for Weyburn.
    Rayanne Mckenzie made 18 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Hounds (10-9-3). Amara Lewendon turned away 29 shots to take the setback in net for the Gold Wings (1-22-1).
    The Hounds return to action on Thursday, when they travel to Regina to face the Rebels at 8 p.m. at the Co-operators Centre.
    The Gold Wings return to the ice on Friday, when they host the Prince Albert Northern Bears at 7:30 p.m. at Crescent Point Place.

Back in the Express with Davidson

Dawson Davidson wants to end his time with the Blades on a high.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature story on Saskatoon Blades overage offensive-defenceman Dawson Davidson.
    Davidson has appeared in all of the Blades 52 regular season games and sits second in team scoring with nine goals and 45 assists for 54 points. His assist and point totals are career highs.
    The Moosomin, Sask., product cracked into the WHL as a 16-year-old rookie in the 2014-15 campaign with the Kamloops Blazers. He was traded to the Regina Pats partway through the 2016-17 season and was with the Pats in their run to the WHL championship series, which they lost in six games to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    Davidson was traded to the Blades last season. He has been a key part in helping the Blades push into fifth in the overall WHL standings with a 30-13-8 record.
    The piece on Davidson can be found by clicking right here.

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