Thursday, 28 March 2019

Expect Blazers to battle to bitter end in SMAAAHL final

Rhett Gibson breaks in on a scoring chance for the Blazers.
    Don’t expect the Saskatoon Blazers to let a special season die easily.
    On Wednesday at the Rod Hamm Memorial Arena, the Blazers fought tooth and nail to try and claim a pivotal Game 3 of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League championship series against the Notre Dame Hounds. Locked in a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes of play, Hounds 15-year-old defenceman Maxwell Joy scored the only goal of the third period to deliver the visitors to a 3-2 victory.
    With that result, the Hounds took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. They will be looking to close things out on Friday, when the two sides meet in Game 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Duncan McNeill Arena in Wilcox.
    For the Blazers, the setback in Wednesday was a tough one to take. They took Game 1 of the SMAAAHL title series last Saturday at home 3-0. The Hounds rebounded to take Game 2 with a thrilling 3-2 double overtime result in Wilcox.
Max Gudnason (#25) had a goal for the Blazers on Wednesday.
    The Blazers will be facing their third elimination game of the post-season. Of course, they won the first two way back in the first round with victories in Games 4 and 5 to take their best-of-five set with the rival Prince Albert Mintos 3-2.
    The Blazers had a strong regular season posting a 31-10-3 regular season record to finish third overall in the league. They finished five points in the standings behind the first place Regina Pat Canadians.
    The Pat Canadians fell to the Hounds in a series deciding Game 5 in the semifinal round.
Nolan Allan has been a force on the blue-line for the Blazers.
    The Hounds, who are the defending SMAAAHL champions, finished fourth overall in the league’s regular season standings with a 28-12-2-2 mark.
    While the Blazers have had a strong season, they have encountered adversity points. Any time an adversity point hits, they face it head on.
    Saskatoon appeared to be poised to top the SMAAAHL standings. Weather literally wreaked havoc on their late season schedule resulting in postponements of three games.
    As a result, the Blazers had a roller-coaster final seven games of the regular season winning three times, falling three times in regulation and falling once in overtime.
    The overtime loss closed their regular season schedule on Feb. 27 at Rod Hamm, when the Pat Canadians posted a 3-2 win with star forward Cole Sillinger scoring the winner while short-handed.
    After falling behind the Mintos 2-1 in the first round, the Blazers rallied to take that series 3-2.
    In a best-of-five semifinal series, they downed the Tisdale Trojans in four games.
The Blazers celebrate a goal from Hayden Wilm on Wednesday.
    Even on Wednesday, it seemed the Blazers would find a way to win.
    The Hounds went ahead 1-0 at the 4:26 mark on a goal by star forward Coalson Wolford. Less than two minutes later, the Blazers tied things up at 1-1 with a short-handed goal coming from the stick of veteran forward Max Gudnason.
    Forward Drew Englot put the Hounds back on top 2-1 near the midway point of the second.
    The Blazers battled back with a power-play goal from rookie forward Hayden Wilm with 3:57 remaining in the second.
    Joy scored his winner at the 5:48 mark of the third. While the Blazers had the puck for the majority of the time for the rest of the third, their shots on goal were limited due to the defensive work of the Hounds, who trapped up the centre ice zone efficiently.
Cole Nagy played a physical game for the Blazers on Wednesday.
    Matthew Pesenti turned away 22 shots to take the setback in goal for the Blazers. Thomas Wardle had an outstanding game making 29 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Hounds.
    The Blazers had great efforts from a number of their standouts. The most noticeable was 15-year-old rookie offensive defenceman Nolan Allan, who was selected in the first round and third overall in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft by the Prince Albert Raiders.
    Allan was a force at both ends of the ice, and he had serious control of the play, when he had the puck. He has six goals and 15 assists in the Blazers 12 playoff games after posting 12 goals and 23 assists in 39 regular season games.
    Veteran 17-year-old forward Cole Nagy played a physical game. He topped the Blazers in regular season scoring with 26 goals and 39 assists appearing in all the team’s 44 regular season games.
    Forward Josh Nagy had dangerous moments in the offensive zone.
Keenan Allan breaks into the offensive zone for the Blazers.
    He finished second in Blazers regular season scoring with 21 goals and 27 assists in 43 regular season games.
    Sophomore forward Carter Stebbings flowed to smart areas on the ice. He had 13 goals and 32 assists appearing in all of the Blazers 44 regular season games.
    Speedy Rhett Gibson brought a lot of energy to the contest. In 38 regular season games he had 17 goals and 21 assists.
    Head coach Scott Scissons always seems to find a way to help the Blazers hit another gear.
    Overall, the heart of this Saskatoon side can never be questioned. It always shows through.
Head coach Scott Scissons and the Blazers aim to force a Game 5 on Sunday.
    The Blazers have their backs to the wall, but they are far from finished in the SMAAAHL final. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them return home to host a series deciding Game 5 this coming Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Rod Hamm.

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