Friday, 15 March 2019

Blades, Raiders party like it’s 1992 all over again

Blades G Nolan Maier stops Raiders C Sean Montgomery.
    It’s feeling a lot like 1992.
    On Friday, the Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders put on a show ensuring a season high 9,188 spectators got their monies worth at the SaskTel Centre. When the dust settled, a power play goal on a two man advantage by Blades overage right-winger Max Gerlach on a net scramble at the 7:17 mark of the third period broke a 2-2 tie and ultimately delivered Saskatoon to a 3-2 victory.
    The Raiders, who will finish first overall in the WHL regular season standings, saw their three game winning streak snapped as they fell to 53-10-2-2.
The Blades celebrate a winning goal from Max Gerlach (#9).
    The Blades, who will finish inside of the top four of the WHL standings, won a season high eighth in a row and their 15th out of their last 16 games to improve to 45-14-8. Saskatoon has posted its best record since going 56-13-1-2 in the 2010-11 campaign.
    You can be sure the fans in attendance supporting both sides were thinking how great it would be to see a playoff series between the two clubs.
    The first round opponents of the Raiders and Blades in the Red Deer Rebels and Moose Jaw Warriors respectively will have something to say first before anticipation can build regarding a Prince Albert versus Saskatoon playoff series.
    The last time the Raiders and Blades met in the post-season when they were this high up in the standings came in the 1994-95 campaign.
The Blades and Raiders scrum it up at the end of the first period.
    That year the Raiders posted a record of 44 wins, 26 losses and two ties to edge out the Blades, who had a mark of 41 wins, 23 losses and eight ties, for third overall in the WHL.
    They collided in the second round of the post-season with the Raiders sweeping a best-of-seven series 4-0. Prince Albert moved on to fall in a league semifinal series in seven games to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
    The most famous playoff encounter came a little earlier in the 1991-92 campaign, when arguably the rivalry between the two sides hit its highest peak.
Max Gerlach had the Blades winning goal on Friday.
    The Raiders finished second overall in the league standings with a record of 50 wins, 20 losses and two ties. The Blades were fourth overall in the WHL with a mark of 38 wins, 29 losses and five ties.
    The two squads collided in a best-of-seven WHL semifinal series, where the Blades prevailed 4-2. Saskatoon moved on to fall in the WHL final to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Kamloops Blazers in seven games.
    With the way the current playoff format is set up, a meeting in the league’s final four round is impossible this season, but the dreams are there for a second round meeting.
    Friday’s contest was a back and forth one.
Parker Kelly had the Raiders first goal on Friday.
    Both sides hit the ice with their regular rosters outside of the Raiders scratching overage forward Dante Hannoun causing Prince Albert to play 18-year-old defenceman Loeden Schaufler up front.
    The Raiders struck first 81 seconds into the contest on a well-executed offensive zone faceoff. Prince Albert centre Spencer Moe won the draw to left-winger Parker Kelly at the top of the faceoff circle, and Kelly wired home his 35th goal of the season.
    Saskatoon evened things up at 1-1 at the 5:44 mark of the first period, when overage defenceman Brandon Schuldhaus fired home a long distance shot.
    To start the second, the Blades had a two-man advantage for 85 seconds due to Raiders penalty trouble at the end of the opening frame.
    Just 37 seconds into the second, Blades right-winger Ryan Hughes converted a backdoor feed from offensive-defenceman Dawson Davidson to give the host side a 2-1 edge.
Ryan Hughes scored his 30th goal of the season on Friday.
    The tally was the 30th goal of the season for Hughes.
    The star goalies on either side made some big saves in the second. Blades netminder Nolan Maier stoned Raiders overage centre Sean Montgomery in close.
    Raiders netminder Ian Scott robbed Blades left-winger “Uncle” Gary Haden with a glove save on a shot from point blank range in front of the Prince Albert net.
    The Raiders evened things up on the power play at the 4:49 mark of the third period, when overage centre Noah Gregor got the puck at the top of the right faceoff circle in the Saskatoon zone and fired home a shot to the top left corner of the Blades goal to force a 2-2 tie.
    That set the stage for Gerlach to score his winner moments later.
    Still, the Raiders had two chances to send the game to overtime inside of the final minute of the third period.
    Raiders rookie right-winger Ozzy Wiesblatt, who turned 17-years-old earlier this month, had an open shot from the left slot of the Saskatoon zone only to be denied by Maier.
Ozzy Wiesblatt drives a shot on goal near the end of the third period.
    A few seconds later, Raiders captain Brayden Pachal had a shot from the left slot, but his drive was blocked by Schuldhaus.
    Maier made 28 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Blades. Ian Scott turned away 29 shots in goal for the Raiders.
    These two teams go at it again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
Could another barnburner be on tap to close the regular season for both clubs?
    It is a golden time to be a WHL hockey fan in northern Saskatchewan like it was in 1992.

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