Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Blades’ Dach embraces playoff grind, all set for villain treatment in Prince Albert

Kirby Dach is enjoying his first foray into the WHL playoffs.
    Kirby Dach will never forget his first highlight reel moment in the WHL playoffs, and he hopes to create a few more with the Saskatoon Blades.
    When the Blades eliminated the Warriors in Moose Jaw 4-3 in overtime on March 27, Dach scored a sick coast-to-coast short-handed goal with 4:25 remaining in the third period. The tally put the Blades ahead 3-2 for a short time.
    That play is ingrained in the star centre’s memory.
    “It was pretty exciting obviously,” said Dach, who turned 18-years-old in January. “The game was tied 2-2, and they were on the power play.
    “I was out there to do a job on the penalty kill. I saw my opening, and I kind of just chipped it along the wall a couple of times and just took off. The goalie was kind of caught in a spot, where he didn’t know if he was going to come out and play the puck, or if he was just going to stay in his net and wait for me to come.
Kirby Dach is a highly touted prospect for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
    “I kind of had that advantage on him kind of second guessing his choice that he made. I just made a move around the goalie. Obviously, it didn’t end up being the game winner, but we got to overtime and got the job done.”
    What Dach failed to mention was who he went around from the Warriors on the play.
    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.
    After the Warriors scored to force overtime, Blades Norwegian import winger Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen had the honours of scoring the series winner at the 4:36 mark of the extra session to give Saskatoon the win and a 4-0 series sweep.
Kirby Dach can battle in the tough areas on the ice.
    With the Blades taking part in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, Dach said his team enjoyed the fact they were able to create a few memorable moments in their first round sweep of the Warriors.
    He said his team wants to make more great memories in the second round. In a best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Blades will face their archrivals the Prince Albert Raiders in a heavyweight tilt. The Raiders topped the WHL regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2 record, while the Blades finished fourth overall with a 45-15-8 mark.
    The Raiders were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings, while the Blades were an honourable mention.
    “Obviously, we have a big task ahead of us with Prince Albert in the second round,” said Dach, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 195 pounds. “We’re excited for it, and we’re ready to go to battle.”
    Game 1 of the series is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert. Game 2 will be held Sunday at 6 p.m. at Art Hauser.
    The series switches to Saskatoon for Game 3, which will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
Kirby Dach had 73 points in 62 regular season games with the Blades.
    Due to being a highly touted prospect to be selected in the first round of the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, Dach is expecting to receive full out villain treatment when he steps into P.A. In his sophomore season, Dach finished third in team scoring posting 25 goals and 48 assists for 73 points in 62 regular season games.
    He knows he will be a target of boos and fan heckles in Prince Albert along with his linemate in left-winger Riley McKay, who likes to stir the pot on the ice with his feisty style of play.
    “Obviously, they have a pretty good fanbase up there,” said Dach. “They are pretty loud and rowdy, and they get in your face, because that rink is so small.
    “They are almost on top of you, when you are playing the game. As a player and as a competitor, those are the games you want to be in at this time of the year, because you are trying to prove to yourself and to your teammates and to the people in the stands that you deserve to be there that it is not going to be a cakewalk for P.A. They kind of have to come through us.”
    With that said, Dach said his team has a big challenge in taking on the Raiders.
    “They won the Scotty Munro this year, and they’ve been the greatest team this year in the Western Hockey League,” said Dach, who was named an assistant captain with the Blades in January. “We have a tough task ahead of us.
Kirby Dach, left, can slip past the WHL’s best blue-liners like Jett Woo.
    “We have to go through them to get to the third round, so it is going to be a good series. I am excited to play in it.”
    Blades head coach Mitch Love has enjoyed working with Dach this season and has been impressed with how well Dach has handled the attention that comes with being a top NHL prospect.
    “He is a mature kid,” said Love. “You can see he has been well raised in terms of handling such a spotlight for a young man, which isn’t an easy thing.
    “In terms of the hockey side of things, he has been a true pro. He comes to the rink wanting to get better whether it is in the gym or on the ice or in practice. He has been very coachable.
    “He is on a mission. He knows what he needs to try to get done.”
    Love said Dach’s compete level is always high in games regardless of who the Blades are playing.
    “You can never do things no matter how skilled you are without a little bit of compete in your game,” said Love. “We stressed that as a team all the time.
    “He brings a high level of that. He goes to the greasy areas. He goes to the hard areas to score goals and try to get pucks back.
    “Not every kid wants to do that. He has done a real good job of that. It is actually been something I’ve watched increase as the year has went on.”
Kirby Dach (#77) mans his spot to congratulate teammates after wins.
    Dach said the Blades have had a lot of fun so far in the playoffs, and they are looking forward to the rest of the post-season with a lot of optimism and excited anticipation. He can’t wait to continue the post-season journey with his team in P.A. on Friday.
    “It just adds that much more intensity and compete to your game,” said Dach. “You’re do or die every night. You’re trying to win.
    “You are doing it for everybody in that dressing room. You’re doing it for the guy beside you, and the guy across from you. You are one big family in there, and you are fighting for your lives.
    “It is a lot of fun so far, and we’re not done yet.”

Raiders/Blades series to air on Sportsnet

Raiders D Brayden Pachal (#8) scrums it up with Blade D Dawson Davidson.
    The first three games of the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Prince Albert Raiders and the Saskatoon Blades will be shown live national on Sportsnet’s network of channels.
    The WHL and Sportsnet made the announcement about the television schedule on Wednesday. Game 1 of the series from the Art Hauser Centre will be shown on Sportsnet 360 on Friday at 7 p.m. Saskatchewan time.
    Game 2 will air on Sportsnet from Art Hauser on Sunday at 6 p.m. Saskatchewan time. Game 3 will be shown from the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Saskatchewan time.
    This has to be viewed as a big thing for the WHL, because two of its best teams will gain more exposure playing against each other nationally. A national audience should see some pretty outstanding action.
    The Raiders finished first overall in the WHL regular season standings at 54-10-2-2. The Blades finished fourth overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record.

Back in the Express with Gerlach

Max Gerlach scored 42 goals in the regular season for the Blades.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature on Blades overage star right-winger Max Gerlach.
    Gerlach is nicknamed the “Texan Sniper” due to his outstanding shot and for being from Flower Mound, Texas. 
    In each of his four compete seasons in the WHL, Gerlach has netted 30-or-more goals in each of those campaigns.
    This season Gerlach hit career highs in goals (42) and points (74). He hit the 40-goal plateau or the first time in his WHL career this season.
    He is well known in the Blades for a joke he often pulls in media scrums.
    The story on Gerlach can be found by clicking right here.

Officials nail review calls in Tigers versus Oil Kings

Linesman Chad Huseby, right, and his crew had a good night last Sunday.
    Noting how fans like to get on the officials in the WHL, the crew that worked Game 6 of the first round playoff series between the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings and Medicine Hat Tigers had a great night last Sunday.
    The crew included referees Adam Byblow and Kyle Kowalski and linesmen Deion Foster and Chad Huseby with Curtis Scherger manning the video goal judge spot. Former veteran referee Devin Klein was in the house as the supervisor for the officials.
    Before 2,872 spectators at the Canalta Centre, the officiating crew faced three different goal video review situations, and they got each of those calls right.
    The first came on the first Tigers goal of the second period, which gave the host side a 2-1 edge. On the play, Tigers captain James Hamblin and Oil Kings netminder Todd Scott bumped into each other behind the Edmonton net, when Scott was trying to play the puck.
    The two raced around opposite sides of the goal to get in front of the net, and Hamblin tipped home a tally. Scott went down on his own slipping on the ice as the goal went in.
    The officials tried to determine if there was incidental contact on the play that could nullify the tally. As Hamblin and Scott bumped behind the net and had adequate time to set up in front of the goal, the officials correctly ruled the goal should stand.
Conner McDonald’s point shot was correctly called a goal.
    After the Oil Kings fell behind 3-1, they scored in the second to cut the Tigers lead to 3-2, and that tally was reviewed. On the review, the officials tried to determine if Oil Kings overage centre Andrew Fyten knocked the puck in with a high stick.
    Following the review, the officials correctly ruled that the point shot from Oil Kings defenceman Wyatt McLeod did go straight in and the goal stood up.
    The Oil Kings equalizer scored by defenceman Conner McDonald just 31 seconds into the third period to tie things up at 3-3 was also reviewed. McDonald’s shot hit the post of the Tigers net, bounced off the pad of Tigers import netminder Mads Sogaard and just trickled across the goal-line of the Medicine Hat.
    The officials went to video review to check of the puck crossed the goal-line and correctly ruled that it did allowing the goal to stand.
    Edmonton ultimately won the contest 4-3 in overtime and claimed the best-of-seven series 4-2.
    It was nice to see the officials have a good game, and in particular, it was nice to see Byblow have a good game. Not sure if I was bad luck for Byblow, who is a veteran official, but it seemed like he struggled about the last five times I saw him officiate a game and the fans were really getting on him.
    He is a good guy, and I was hoping to see him have a game, where he wasn’t noticed. Like players, officials can go through funks where they struggle too.
    When the first goal went to a review, there was worry on my part the crew that night would get the call wrong.
    Normally, officials don’t have to go to video review on three different goals in one night. The fact they got all of those calls correct was sweet to see.
    Due to reviews, Byblow was noticed but in a good way.
    While some WHL fans might not want to believe it, Byblow had a good game that night, so hopefully that gives him some good positive momentum for the rest of the playoffs.
    On another side note, Klein is well respected in Medicine Hat for his ability to coach officials.

Canalta Centre is a beautiful place

The Tigers salute their fans after their playoff elimination on Sunday.
    Any time I step into the Canalta Centre I get the feeling it can be a special place one day for the Medicine Hat Tigers.
    The Tigers moved into their beautiful new home rink that seats 6,016 spectators before the start of the 2015-16 campaign. While the team has played four complete seasons out of that facility, fans in Medicine Hat are still nostalgic for the club’s old home facility in The Arena.
    The Tigers played in The Arena from their inception in the 1970-71 season through to the 2014-15 campaign spanning a total of 45 seasons. Over that time, the Tigers won five WHL championships and two Memorial Cup titles playing out of that building.
    The Arena contains a tonne of memories including Brennan Bosch scoring arguably the most famous tally in the history of the WHL with his double overtime winner in the fog to give the Tigers a 3-2 victory in Game 7 of the 2007 WHL Championship series.
    Of course, the team’s new rink doesn’t have the memories the old facility has.
    With that said, it feel special to see the storied Tigers playing in a modern facility. While only 2,872 spectators watched the Tigers bow out of the WHL post-season with a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 6 of their first round series with the Edmonton Oil Kings last Sunday, you got the feeling the Canalta Centre could be an intimidating place to play in as the visitor when full.
The fans at the Canalta Centre give the Tigers a final salute on Sunday.
    There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the inside feels super bright. It also has some unique concession stands like a Swirls ice cream booth. Ice cream from Swirls is known for being outstanding in the Hat.
    Even the press box seating is sweet. You feel like you are on top of the action, and you can get some great photos from press row. Medicine Hat News sports reporter Ryan McCracken has taken some outstanding photos from that vantage point over the years.
    Had the Tigers made it to the WHL Eastern Conference final in 2017 after finishing second overall in the regular season with a 51-20-1 record, fans in the Hat would have had their first long playoff run in the new building to reflect on and begin creating memories that mirrored those from The Arena.
    I admit I too miss The Arena. Having covered the Tigers as a beat writer for the Medicine Hat News from 2004 to 2014, the team’s old rink will always be special to me.
    Still, believe there will be bright days for the team playing inside the Canalta Centre.

Off to P.A. on Thursday

    Check back here to Stanks’ Sermon on Thursday.
    I will be heading to Prince Albert to check in with the Raiders before their second round WHL playoffs series with the Saskatoon Blades. A post will be coming that day.

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