Friday, 29 March 2019

WHL playoffs thing fitting Blades just fine

Blades captain Chase Wouters (#44) in embraced by Dorrin Luding.
    You have to love it when the WHL playoffs experience is all new again.
    Skating in the post-season for the first time since 2013, the Saskatoon Blades are finding a new love affair with the WHL post-season. Due to the fact it has been so long since they have been in the playoffs, the current Blades are writing their own post-season story on a clean slate.
    Everything for “the Bridge City” bunch is an open road again.
    Due to finishing fourth overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record, the Blades have created some buzz in Saskatoon.
    With having made numerous community appearances throughout the campaign, captain Chase Wouters and his teammates including the likes of Kirby Dach, Riley McKay, Kyle Crnkovic, Max Gerlach, “Uncle” Gary Haden, Nolan Maier, Dawson Davidson, Brandon Schuldhaus, et al have laid the groundwork to create an image that they are a likable bunch, and they can be “the boys” in “Toon Town.”
Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen had the OT series winner for the Blades.
    One of the signs that interest is going up in the team comes from the fact the Blades are making some healthy sales at their Frozen Pond gift store with novelty T-shirts featuring Haden, McKay, Crnkovic, Gerlach, Dach and Maier.
    In the first round, they swept a best-of-seven series with the Moose Jaw Warriors, who finished seventh overall in the league at 40-20-6-2. The sweep was completed on Wednesday when the Blades posted a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 4 at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw.
    Norwegian import winger Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen had the honours of scoring the series winner at the 4:36 mark of the extra session.
    Along the way, the fans are returning to the SaskTel Centre for Blades home games. At the WHL Christmas break, the Blades were averaging 3,658 spectators per game after 15 home dates.
    If that average attendance number held up, the Blades would have posted their lowest average attendance since the 2003-04 campaign, when they averaged 3,361 spectators per game in a season where they posted a franchise worst record of seven wins, 52 losses, 11 ties and two overtime setbacks.
Max Gerlach has sniped big goals for the Blades.
    As the Blades remarkable regular season continued with the team winning 15 out of their final 17 regular season games, they bumped their average attendance mark for the regular season up to 3,911 spectators. The figure was an improvement over the average attendance figure of 3,851 per game for the team last season.
    In their first two home playoff dates, the Blades drew 5,193 spectators for their 3-2 Game 1 overtime victory over the Warriors last Friday and 6,022 supporters for their 3-1 victory in Game 2 last Saturday. The team will always open the doors for all new supporters that want to join them.
    For the Blades players, they have already experienced moments of euphoric highs. All those moments have done is created more motivation to create more of those moments.
Kirby Dach made a few highlight reels with his goal in Game 4.
    The Blades started experience the euphoric highs on a grand note in Game 1. They fell behind the Warriors 2-0 early in the second. If the Blades went down to defeat there, a loss could have been chalked up to nerves.
    Instead, it was time to cue the comeback.
    Gerlach sniped his first of the post-season to help the Blades exit the second period down 2-1. With 8:12 remaining in the third, McKay, who became a fan favourite for his style of play that gets under the skin of opponents, netted the equalizer to tie things up at 2-2 and force overtime.
    At the 3:23 mark of overtime, Wouters put home a backhander on a rush that gave the Blades a 3-2 victory and their first win in the WHL playoffs since 2011.
    The captain who turned 19-years-old in February and is a career member of the team capped the victory. It was a romantic storyline moment for the Blades.
The Blades keep getting more supporters as every game passes.
    The storyline moment was the result of work that was put in during the season, and the previous campaigns of building. Good teams that do all the right things will experience romantic playoff moments like the Wouters had.
    For recent examples, just look at the performance of now graduated Regina Pats stars Adam Brooks and Sam Steel from the 2016-17 WHL playoffs and now graduated Swift Current Broncos stars Glenn Gawdin and Tyler Steenbergen in helping their club capture the WHL title last season.
    In Game 2, Gerlach hammered home a pair of goals, while Dach netted his first of the playoffs in the Blades 3-1 victory that night.
Riley McKay, left, celebrates scoring a big goal for the Blades in Game 1.
    In Game 3 on Tuesday in Moose Jaw, Gerlach broke the hearts of the Warriors and their faithful firing home the winner with 4:21 remaining in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and give the Blades a 3-2 win.
    Before Roykas-Marthinsen came thought with his OT series winner in Game 4, Dach had a huge moment putting the Blades up 3-2 with 4:25 remaining in the third with a sensational short-handed goal.
    On his coast-to-coast effort, Dach passed the puck to himself around first Warriors star captain and defenceman Josh Brook and another Warriors star defenceman in Jett Woo to spring himself on a breakaway. Dach tucked home his third of the playoffs on a smart deke move past Moose Jaw netminder Adam Evanoff to give the Blades the lead.
Netminder Nolan Maier has kept rolling for the Blades in the post-season.
    Dach’s superhuman effort was another romantic post-season moment for the Blades.
    A short time later, Warriors overage centre Tristin Langan scored to force overtime.
    That set the stage for Roykas-Marthinsen to come through with his series winner for Saskatoon in the extra session.
    Over the course of the sweep, Blades first year head coach Mitch Love has looked like an experienced veteran top bench boss with how he has guided his players knowing when to let them enjoy things and knowing when to pull them back to focus on the next moment or game.
    General manager Colin Priestner, who has led the charge in building the current Saskatoon roster through the WHL Bantam Draft and a number of smart trades, has to feel a mix of pride, excitement and relief with what his team has accomplished to this point.
Dawson Davidson has done it all on the back end for the Blades.
    Now the Blades move in to face their archrivals the Prince Albert Raiders in a best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series. That series will begin with Game 1 on April 5 at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
    The Raiders are playing through a spectacular season finishing first overall in the WHL with a 54-10-2-2 record in the regular season, being ranked second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings and sweeping the Red Deer Rebels, who were 33-29-4-2 in the regular season, in the first round of the playoffs.
    The Blades, who were honourable mentions in the final CHL Top 10 rankings, will be the underdogs against the Raiders.
    Still, the Blades are building the belief that they can be the ones that advances to the Eastern Conference Championship series and possibly the WHL Championship series.
    While the Raiders will bring their huge contingent of fans to each game of this series, it appears the Blades won’t be going into those contest by themselves.
    A pure excitement is building in Saskatoon for their likable WHL team. The Blades have marketed Saskatoon as being #BladeCity.
Blades players like Riley McKay want to share big moments with their fans.
    In the early going, there were a lot of skeptics that scoffed at that notion.
    For a team that is making the impossible look possible, Saskatoon may legitimately become #BladeCity after all.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to
    If you like what you see here, you might want to donate to the cause to keep independent media like this blog going. Should you choose to help out, feel free to click on the DONATE button in the upper right corner. Thank you for stopping in.