Thursday, 30 May 2019

Blades welcome their future

Blades prospect Brandon Lisowsky, right, speaks with the media on Tuesday.
    The WHL Bantam Draft day provided the rare opportunity for Brandon Lisowsky to miss school for a good reason.
    Lisowsky monitored how the draft unfolded in Red Deer, Alta., on May 2 from his home in Port Coquitlam, B.C.
    He talked to Saskatoon Blades general manager Colin Priestner via Facetime the day before the draft. Priestner said the Blades would select the 15-year-old centre, if he was available when they picked.
    “I was sitting on my couch waiting,” said Lisowsky. “It probably was the biggest day of my life so far.”
    The Blades selected Lisowsky, who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 160 pounds, in the first round and ninth overall.
    He collected 61 goals and 48 assists for 109 points and a plus-48 rating in the plus-minus department in 53 regular season and tournament games with the Burnaby Winter Club Bantam Prep team last season. The Burnaby Winter Club program has a strong track record of producing players who are ready for the major junior ranks.
    On Tuesday, the Lisowsky was one of three draft selections the Blades signed to WHL standard player agreements along with forward Hayden Smith and netminder Ethan Chadwick, who is a Saskatoon product.
    “I’m super excited to be a Blade,” said Lisowsky. “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.
    “To get drafted to the Blades, it is super exciting to sign. I can’t wait to get started in camp in August and see some new teammates. I am really excited.”
Blades prospect Hayden Smith, right, speaks to the media on Tuesday.
    Smith, who will turn 15-years-old in July, was selected by the Blades in the second round and 24th overall pick. The Chetwynd, B.C., product, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 152 pounds, collected 24 goals and 23 assists in 30 games with the Yale Hockey Academy Bantam Prep team in Abbotsford, B.C.
    “I’ve been working for this my whole life,” said Smith. “It is a great program, facilities, everything is fantastic.
    “They were one of my top picks for teams to go to. It was a very happy moment.”
    Smith describes himself as a fast skater, who works hard and likes to battle in the corners. He arrived in Saskatoon on Sunday and departed home late Tuesday night.
    After seeing the city and the facilities the Blades train out of, Smith said it added to his drive to try to make the team on a full-time basis for the 2020-21campaign, when he is first eligible to be a full-time player on the WHL circuit.
    “This is a big moment,” said Smith. “I’ve been working up to this for a while, three years.
    “Once you get to that milestone, it gives you the push to the next level. You want to make the team at 16.”
    Chadwick was selected by the Blades in the third round and 47th overall. The 15-year-old, who stands 5-foot-9 posted a 2.83 save percentage and a .920 save percentage in 22 regular season games with the Saskatoon Stallions bantam AA team.
    “I’ve always grown up watching the Blades,” said Chadwick. “I’ve always wanted to put on the jersey.
    “It has been wonderful. I’ve just always wanted to be a part of the team, and hopefully, I will go on the ice some day with all the teammates.”
Blades prospect Ethan Chadwick, right, speaks to the media on Tuesday.
    Chadwick’s family has billeted Blades players for a number of years. Some of his past adopted billet brothers from the team included centre Haydn Hopkins, netminder Troy Trombley, defencemen Nolan Reid and Jackson Caller.
    Chadwick said he always received advice from Trombley, who carried the load in goal for the Blades in 2013-14 campaign, and valued the tips of all the team’s players that lived with his family.
    “I’ve learned a lot of things from all my (billet brothers) in what it takes to get here, just the tips and tricks,” said Chadwick. “It is wonderful, because they’ve always taught me how hard it is to play here, and what kind of commitment it takes and how hard you have to work.”
    The Blades selected six forwards, five defencemen and two goaltenders in the Bantam Draft.
    Players coming into the WHL can join the league on a full-time basis in their 16-year-old seasons at the earliest. Players who are 15-year-olds have to play in the midget hockey ranks somewhere.
    The WHL Bantam Draft and the signing of the three players on Tuesday started an off-season that contained a lot of optimism for the Blades.
    Last season, the Blades finished fourth overall in the WHL with a 45-15-8 earning an honourable mention in the final CHL Top 10 rankings. They made the playoffs for the first time since the 2013-13 season and for the first time since Mike Priestner bought the team before the start of the 2013-14 campaign.
    In the playoffs, the Blades swept the Moose Jaw Warriors 4-0 in a best-of-seven first round series before falling to their archrivals and eventual WHL champions the Prince Albert Raiders in six games in the second round.
General manager Colin Priestner and the Blades had a great 2018-19 season.
    Colin Priestner, who is Mike’s son, has played a large role building the Blades roster taking on the role of general manager at the start of the 2016-17 campaign. Colin said it was nice to avoid the pitfalls of the five previous off-seasons, where the club had to deal with the fallout of missing the playoffs.
    “This is finally a great time to be a Blades fan,” said Priestner. “It is great time to be in the organization.
    “We’re seeing that in our ticket sales and our corporate sales. Everybody is kind of getting on board. What I am proud about is how we didn’t sell the future this year to get good.
    “We’re really interested in what we can do this year, and I think we have a great team and a lot of excitement. Now, we have to actually do it.

Dach at NHL Scouting Combine

Kirby Dach is at the NHL Scouting Combine.
    Saskatoon Blades star centre Kirby Dach is going through the paces of the NHL Scouting Combine.
    Dach, who is an 18-year-old centre, is one of 104 prospects attending the Scouting Combine, which began Monday and wraps up on Saturday in Buffalo, New York.
    The prospects undergo physical and medical assessments at the combine and are interviewed by interested teams.
    Blades general manager Colin Priestner said Dach went into the Scouting Combine at full health.
Dach injured one of his legs in Game 5 of the Blades second round playoffs series with the Prince Albert Raiders after coming together with Raiders star right-winger Brett Leason. Dach missed about 10 minutes of the Blades loss in Game 5 and played hurt in Saskatoon’s season ending loss in Game 6.
    The Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., product appeared in 62 regular season games with the Blades posting 25 goals and 48 assists for 73 points to go with a plus-15 rating in the plus-minus department. Dach added five goals and three assists in the Blades 10 post-season games.
    “He had an outstanding season and an unbelievable playoffs,” said Priestner. “He scored some highlight reel goals, competed two ways.
    “He is at the combine right now. He is going to impress people with how he speaks, how professional he is. You meet him in person, and he is 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds.
    “He is a guy that is just going to go up I think as the draft comes close. I am so proud of him and how far he has come.”
    Leason, who helped the Raiders win the WHL championship, is also one of the prospects taking part in the Scouting Combine.
    The NHL Entry Draft is set for June 21 to 22 in Vancouver, B.C.

Blades coaches get call from Hockey Canada

Blades HC Mitch Love, centre, is going to world juniors.
    Saskatoon Blades head coach Mitch Love and associate coach Ryan Marsh have earned assignments with Hockey Canada’s national team program.
    Earlier this month, Love was named an assistant coach for Canada’s team that will compete in the upcoming world juniors, which will be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2020 in Ostrava and Trinec in the Czech Republic.
    Dale Hunter, who is the owner, president and head coach of the OHL’s London Knights, will be the head coach of Canada’s world junior team. Andre Tourigny, who is the head coach and vice-president of hockey operations of the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, will be another assistant coach with the Canada’s world junior team.
    On Monday, Marsh was named as an assistant coach for Team Canada White at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, which runs Nov. 2-9 in Medicine Hat, Alta., and Swift Current, Sask. Vancouver Giants head coach Michael Dyck will be the head coach for Team Canada White.
    Canada had three entries at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
    Last season marked the first campaign both Love and Marsh worked with the Blades. They guided the team to a fourth overall finish in the WHL regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record.
    Saskatoon advanced to the second round of the playoffs before falling in six games to the eventual WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders.
    Blades general manager Colin Priestner was pleased to see his two coaches get the call for these opportunities.
    “It is a great recruiting tool,” said Priestner. “There hundreds of kids in the Bantam Draft that we talked to, that is a pretty good selling point.
    “It is an exciting time for a young player to come into an organization with coaches that Hockey Canada at least feels are national level coaches. We are going to be short next year a little bit. We’re going to have at least two weeks when Marsh is away.
    “As soon as Marsh is back, we lose Mitch (Love) for a month.”
    When Love is away with Canada’s world junior team, Marsh will take over the head coach duties. Priestner is confident Marsh will do well in that role.
    “That is a bigger adjustment obviously when you’re head coach leaves,” said Priestner. “I’m very confident that Ryan Marsh as the associate coach is going to have a great run.
    “He has been dying for this opportunity in his own way to run a bench for a month. It is a great experience for him.”

Tigers, Clouston part ways

Shaun Clouston guiding the Tigers in his final game as HC and GM.
    Shaun Clouston’s era with the Medicine Hat Tigers has come to an end.
    On Thursday, the Tigers announced they have parted ways with their long time head coach and general manager. The 51-year-old product of Viking, Alta., joined the Tigers before the start of the 2003-04 season as an assistant coach.
    Clouston was promoted to associate coach before the start of the 2005-06 campaign.
    He became the Tigers head coach in the summer of 2010, when then head coach and general manager Willie Desjardins left to be an associate coach with the NHL’s Dallas Stars.
    Clouston has been the Tigers head coach and general manager since the start of the 2012-13 season.
    He is the Tigers all-time leader in regular season head coaching victories posting a 375-241-46 record behind the team’s bench.
    Gregg Drinnan, who is the dean when it comes to covering the WHL, has reported in his Taking Note blog that Desjardins is returning to the Tigers to be the club’s head coach and general manager once again. The Tigers have a press conference schedule for Friday morning.
    Desjardins was the interim head coach of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings this past season.
    The 62-year-old product of Climax, Sask., was with the Tigers from 2002-2010. Desjardins joined the team as head coach and took on the duties as general manager before the start of the 2005-06 campaign.
    He posted a 323-176-60 regular season record as the Tigers head coach and is the team’s second all-time leader in career victories. Desjardins guided the Tigers to WHL championship victories in 2004 and 2007, and Clouston was on both of those staffs.
    Over the nine seasons Clouston held the head coaching duties, the Tigers made the playoffs eight times and advanced to the WHL’s Eastern Conference Championship series in 2011 and 2014.
    Under Clouston, the Tigers appeared poised for a long playoff run after finishing second overall in the WHL’s regular season with a 51-20-1 record in 2016-17. In the second round of the playoffs, the Tigers fell in a series-deciding Game 7 to the Lethbridge Hurricanes 5-4 in overtime with Hurricanes captain Tyler Wong scoring the winner in extra time.
    On the surface, this appears to be one of those situations in sports where everyone’s lifespan with a team eventually runs out. Clouston spent 16 seasons with the Tigers, which is an eternity to spend with one sports team in this day and age.
    He was a first rate coach, and a number of his former players passed on well-wishes over Twitter.

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