Friday, 22 March 2019

“Captain Clutch” – Wouters pots OT winner in Blades return to WHL playoffs

Captain Chase Wouters (#44) is mobbed after scoring his OT winner.
    Welcome to the WHL playoffs Chase Wouters.
    With his Saskatoon Blades playing in their first post-season game since 2013, the club’s captain, who turned 19-years-old in February, put the capper on a storybook comeback night for his side.
    Backed by a crowd of 5,193 spectators at the SaskTel Centre, the Blades fell behind 2-0 to the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors before rallying for a 2-2 tie that forced overtime. At the 3:23 mark of overtime, Wouters blew down the left wing of the Moose Jaw zone and lifted a backhand shot past Warriors netminder Adam Evanoff to give the Blades a 3-2 victory.
Chase Wouters sets a screen in front of the Moose Jaw goal.
    Wouters’ goal sent what is normally a reserved gathering at the SaskTel Centre during the regular season into delirium.
    “It is a pretty crazy feeling,” said Wouters, who is a career member of the Blades and hadn’t skated in a WHL playoff game until Friday. “It is something I will never forget that is for sure.
    “It was kind of a lot of hard work all game and got some reward. It is a pretty special moment. It is not only like for me.
    “It is for our group. We’ve worked all hard to this point, and this is kind of something we’ve wanted since we started the year. We got it, so it was good.”
    The win allowed the Blades to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven first round series with the Warriors. Game 2 is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
Chase Wouters wins a defensive zone faceoff.
    Blades head coach Mitch Love said his side would have been happy to see anyone on their roster get the overtime winner, but the bench boss admitted it was great to see Wouters come through in that moment.
    “That is Watty (Wouters),” said Love. “He works hard.
    “He plays key rolls. He plays in every situation for us. It is overtime hockey.
    “You just get pucks to the net and see what happens. That is what happened in overtime tonight.”
    The Warriors drew first blood at the 3:03 mark of the second, when winger Kaeden Taphorn fired home the rebound of a shot taken by linemate Luke Ormsby to give the visitors a 1-0 edge.
    Just 93 seconds after Taphorn’s goal, Warriors rookie centre Eric Alarie fired home a midrange shot from the front of the Saskatoon goal to put the visitors up 2-0.
A young fan show support for Blade C Kirby Dach.
    The goal from the associate player call up from the Rink Hockey Academy prep team in Winnipeg, Man., was the first of his WHL career.
    Alarie turned 16-years-old in late January, and he is eligible to play with the Warriors for the rest of the post-season.
    Wouters admitted the players on his team had some early nerves to start Friday’s game, and said it was great the crowd was engaged in supporting his team through the rough moments.
    “It was definitely a little different atmosphere for sure,” said Wouters. “There was a good crowd tonight supporting us, and we appreciate that. It was great.”
    The Blades cut the Moose Jaw lead to 2-1 at the 7:21 mark of the second while working on the power play on a snipe from overage right-winger Max Gerlach. Gerlach converted a beauty backdoor feed from defenceman Nolan Kneen to get the host side on the board.
    With 8:12 remaining in the third period, the Blades evened things up at 2-2 to force overtime, when left-winger Riley McKay popped home a goal close in from the right side of the Moose Jaw goal.
Eric Alarie (#15) celebrates his first career WHL goal.
    His equalizer came off a rebound on a shot taken by Blades defenceman Brandon Schuldhaus.
    That set the stage for Wouters to come through with the overtime winner.
    Nolan Maier made 21 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Blades. 
    Brodan Salmond turned away 35 shots to take the setback in goal for the Warriors.
    “It was a good bounce back from our group,” said Love. “That was playoff hockey.
    “It is those ebbs and flows of the game. We are just trying to stress to our guys just stay even keel, stay with the process, stay the course, all the stuff we talked about over a 68 game schedule. I thought our guys did a pretty good job of that.
Riley McKay had the third period equalizer for the Blades.
    “It took us awhile though. It took us probably a little longer that we would have liked.”
    Love said the Warriors came out with some good jump at the start of the contest.
    “They came out with a little bit of juice,” said Love. “I thought we were a little nervous and hesitant in our game. We found a way.”
    The Blades bench boss enjoyed how engaged his team’s fans were on Friday. Love said it was something his side noticed.
    “It was a great crowd tonight,” said Love. “We can’t thank the fans enough that showed up here tonight.
    “We need them again and again and again. That was awesome.”
    Love said Blades owner Mike Priestner was given the game puck, as Friday’s game marked the first time the Blades won a playoff contest since Priestner bought the team before the 2013-14 season. 
    The first year head coach said his side has to be prepared for a big push back by the Warriors on Saturday.
The SaskTel Centre crowd celebrates Chase Wouters OT winner.
    “We have to be ready for a huge response tomorrow night against that team,” said Love. “That team is going to come and battle hard.
    “I think they will be better. We’ve got to be even better.”
    Going forward, Wouters expects it to be easier for his side to take off at the start of future playoffs games now that the nerves of the first post-season contest have passed.
    “There won’t be quite as many nerves, but we still have to play our game like it is our last and get out there and put some work in,” said Wouters. “I think we just kind of got to do the same thing we did today.
Chase Wouters gives a young fan a stick after getting first star honours.
    “We outshot them by quite a bit there. We just have to continue to work and get a good rest tonight and comeback ready to work tomorrow.”

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