Friday, 19 April 2019

Crazy bounce goal gives Raiders conference final opener

Ozzy Wiesblatt (#19) received some good luck for the Raiders.
    PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. - It was the classic story of the positive bounce goal delivering elation for one team and dejection for the other side.
    In Game 1 of the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series on Friday night at the Art Hauser Centre, the host Prince Albert Raiders were the beneficiary of the positive bounce. 
    The visiting Edmonton Oil Kings were on the other end of the coin that ultimately felt dejection.
    At the 1:48 mark of the second period, Raiders rookie right-winger Ozzy Wiesblatt swooped down the left wing of the Edmonton zone on rush.
    He ripped a backhanded centring pass to the front of the Edmonton net. The pass bounced off the stick of Oil Kings defenceman Wyatt McLeod and found a home in the open right side of the Edmonton goal.
Wyatt McLeod, right, was victim of bad luck for the Oil Kings.
    That tally by Wiesblatt was the only marker in the Raiders 1-0 victory over the Oil Kings before a sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators at the 2,580 seat building.
    Wiesblatt, who had been held pointless in his five previous post-season outings, gladly took any luck that came his way.
    “It is a big confidence boost for sure, especially after last series not playing my best,” said Wiesblatt referring to his team’s six game victory over the Saskatoon Blades in a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series. “I think good teams find a way, so it was nice to get that bounce.
The Raiders celebrate Ozzy Wiesblatt’s goal.
    “We’ve been working on that in practice just getting as many pucks on net as we can. Luckily, it went in.”
    McLeod was dumbfounded by what occurred in that part of the contest noting he wasn’t trying to shoot or pass the puck in that moment.
    “It was a two-on-two,” said McLeod. “(Oil Kings defenceman) Conner (McDonald) did a good job playing his guy.
    “The puck came to the centre, and I just lost track of it and in off my stick so a tough bounce on that one.”
    While Wiesblatt’s goal gave his side a victory in Game 1, the Calgary, Alta., product said his team wasn’t overly happy with their performance coming off an emotional series win over their archrivals in the Blades. He was already looking forward to Game 2 of the series set for Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    “I think it wasn’t our best performance for sure,” said Wiesblatt. “I think we’re just going to come back tomorrow and do a lot better.”
Ian Scott made 26 saves to pick up the shutout win for the Raiders.
    McLeod thought his side played better as the night went on. The Oil Kings were playing their first game after eight off days following their WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series sweep of the Calgary Hitmen.
    “I think we did a fairly good job of weathering their (the Raiders) push early,” said McLeod. “I think about after the 10-minute mark of the first we finally got really skating to what we think is capable.
    “In saying that, I think we still have another gear to give. We’ll bring it tomorrow.”
    Ian Scott turned away 26 shots to pick up his second shutout of the post-season in goal for the Raiders.
    The only time he looked shaky was on the Oil Kings first shot of the game, which went to a video review to ensure the puck didn’t go across the goal-line of the Prince Albert net. The review showed Scott kept the puck out.
Dylan Myskiw turned away 23 shots in goal for the Oil Kings.
    From that point onward, Scott was solid. He had to be particularly sharp in the third period, when the Oil Kings carried an 11-3 edge in shots on goal.
    Inside of the final 30 seconds of the third, Scott kept the puck out of his net during a couple of fire drill scrambles. One scramble came after Scott denied Oil Kings captain Trey Fix-Wolansky on a drive from the left side wall.
    The rebound from Fix-Wolansky’s shot went in front of the Prince Albert net, and Scott stopped two more chances before covering the puck.
    Overall, Scott felt his defensive unit had a solid game in front of him.
    “I thought they were pretty good,” said Scott. “(There were) lots of key (shot) blocks at really important times.
    “When you get that it is a big thing in playoffs.”
The Art Hauser Centre faithful cheer on the Raiders.
    In order to stay focused in goal, Scott tried to stay feeling a little loose as opposed to be uptight.
    “You just have to keep having fun,” said Scott. “It is playoffs.
    “It is not hard to get up for those games. As long as you keep it even keel it will be good.”
    At the other end of the rink, Dylan Myskiw stopped 23 shots to take the setback in net for the Oil Kings.
    Overall, Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer liked how his team played on Friday. He felt good about how his team responded to the raucous atmosphere in the Raiders home rink.
    Lauer said the Edmonton coaches tell their players to throw the puck on net, because you never know what can happen. He added the Raiders also followed that philosophy on Wiesblatt’s goal.
    “It was one of those things where we just couldn’t find that one shot,” said Lauer. “I think we learned an awful lot.
Cole Fonstad gets set to fire a shot on goal for the Raiders.
    “We will be better tomorrow.”
    Prince Albert finished first overall in the WHL’s regular season posting a 54-10-2-2 record and was rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    The Oil Kings topped the Central Division and finished fifth overall in the WHL standings with a 42-18-4-4 mark, and they were an honourable mention in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said he expects the Eastern Conference final to be a competitive series. When the dust settled on Friday, the veteran bench boss said the big thing was his side picked up the positive result.
    “It is a win,” said Habscheid. “That is what matters in playoffs.
    “They are a good team. We knew that, but they proved it tonight they are a good team. I think we can be much better.
    “We didn’t really have what seemed like our legs tonight, but they played well. Our guys did what they had to do.”
    NOTES – The Raiders had star left-winger Cole Fonstad back in their lineup after he missed two games with an undisclosed injury.
Ian Scott, left, and Zack Hayes celebrate the Raiders win.
    Raiders physical forward Justin Nachbaur sat out the second of a two-game league imposed suspension for receiving an interference major penalty and a game misconduct in his club’s Game 5 win over the Blades. Nachbaur is expected to dress for the Raiders in Game 2 of their series with the Oil Kings on Saturday.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Thursday, 18 April 2019

Series win over Blades readies Raiders for conference final

Prince Albert and Oil Kings set for Game 1 on Friday

The Raiders aim to give their fans more highs in their post-season journey.
     For head coach Marc Habscheid, adversity was good for the soul of his Prince Albert Raiders.
     Battling through adversity will help his team as it continues to march through the WHL playoffs. The Raiders are set to open the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference Championship series against the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    The Raiders are coming off downing their archrivals the Saskatoon Blades in six games in a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series.
    Before meeting the Blades, the Raiders were on an impressive march through the 2018-19 campaign.
Raiders fans have been packing and rocking the Art Hauser Centre.
    Prince Albert finished first overall in the WHL’s regular season posting a 54-10-2-2 record and was rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings. The Raiders swept the Red Deer Rebels 4-0 in a best-of-seven first round series to set up a meeting with the Blades.
    Against the Blades, the Raiders won the first two games at home and dropped Games 3 and 4 on the road in Saskatoon. With the series tied 2-2, the Raiders rolled off a 6-1 victory in Game 5 in Prince Albert and sealed the series win with a 6-3 victory in Game 6 last Sunday at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
    Habscheid remembers talking with his team after falling 4-1 in Game 4 and telling them about the opportunity they had to change things when the momentum of the series was going against them.
The Raiders faithful give their team a huge advantage at home.
    “You know what, we want this,” said Habscheid. “This is good for us. We’re not going to win 6-1 all the time. We need to go through this.
    “We need to feel an upset stomach. We need to have sleepless nights. We need to feel that anxiety. That is what you have to do to win.”
    Habscheid said being tied 2-2 with the Raiders was particularly challenging due to the fact his Raiders felt they should have won Games 3 and 4 in Saskatoon. In those two games, Blades star netminder Nolan Maier turned away 69-of-70 shots to back his side to two wins.
    The Blades, who finished fourth overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record and were an honourable mention in the final CHL Top 10 rankings, took Game 3 of the series 1-0.
Dante Hannoun, left, leads the Raiders in post-season scoring.
    “If we plan on getting to where we want to go, we have to go through situations like that, and we did,” said Habscheid. “I think we responded in Game 5 and obviously (we were) real good (in Game 6).”
    In the conference final, the Raiders face the challenge of taking on another stubborn foe in the Oil Kings. The Oil Kings topped the Central Division and finished fifth overall in the WHL standings with a 42-18-4-4 mark, and they were an honourable mention in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    Edmonton downed the Medicine Hat Tigers in a best-of-seven first round series in six games and swept the Calgary Hitmen 4-0 in the other WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series.
    The Oil Kings have been off since blanking the Hitmen 6-0 in Calgary on April 10.
Brett Leason topped the Raiders in regular season scoring.
    “Obviously, they got a little more rest that we did,” said Raiders captain Brayden Pachal. “We faced adversity that we haven’t so much in the regular season, so it was a good test for us.
    “We are looking forward to Edmonton.”
    Star right-winger Brett Leason led the Raiders in regular season scoring with 36 goals and 53 assists for 89 points, while posting a plus-55 rating in the plus-minus department.
    Overage star centre Noah Gregor was second in regular season scoring for the Raiders posting 43 goals and 45 assists for 88 points to go with a plus-49 rating.
    Captain Brayden Pachal put up the most points out of all the Raiders defenceman. The Estevan, Sask., product racked up 15 goals and 36 assists for 51 points.
    He topped the entire WHL in plus-minus with a plus-76 rating. Defensive partner Zack Hayes was second in the league in plus-minus with a plus-71 rating, while contributing three goals and 24 assists on the offensive end.
    Star netminder Ian Scott had a spectacular regular season posting a 38-8-3 record, a 1.83 goals against average, a .932 save percentage and a team record eight shutouts.
    The Raiders will be without physical forward Justin Nachbaur for Game 1 of the series with the Oil Kings, because he will be sitting out the second of a two-game league imposed suspension. Nachbaur received the suspension for getting an interference major and a game misconduct in the Raiders Game 5 win over the Blades.
Noah Gregor has been stellar for the Raiders all season.
    Overage centre Dante Hannoun leads the Raiders in post-season scoring with nine goals and five assists to go with a plus-seven rating. Hannoun said his Raiders are that much more ready for the rest of the post-season after their series win over the Blades.
    “They battled hard,” said Hannoun. “They pushed every game, and we pushed back.
“You have to give them credit.”
    Captain Trey Fix-Wolansky topped the Oil Kings in regular season scoring with 37 goals and 65 assists for 102 points, while posting a plus-36 rating in the plus-minus department.
    Overage centre Vince Loschiavo was second in team scoring with 37 goals and 25 assists for 62 points. He leads the Oil Kings in post-season scoring with five goals and five assists.
    Offensive-defenceman Conner McDonald topped all Edmonton blue-liners in scoring with 19 goals and 31 assists for 50 points to go with a plus-16 rating during the regular season.
Trey Fix-Wolansky will be looking to celebrate a number of Oil Kings goals.
    Dylan Myskiw carried the load as the Oil Kings starter in goal posting a 28-11-5 record, a 2.53 goals against average, a .914 save percentage and one shutout in regular season play.
    The Raiders and Oil Kings met four times in the regular season, and Prince Albert won three out of those four head-to-head encounters.
    “We’ve had a good series with Edmonton all season too,” said Raiders power forward Parker Kelly. “They are going to be another team that is going to try and push us to our limits.”
    The Raiders are appearing in the Eastern Conference final for the first time since falling to the Brandon Wheat Kings in seven games back in 2005, which is a playoff foray that is generally known in Prince Albert at “The Run.”
Parker Kelly is looking to push the Raiders even further in the playoffs.
    Pachal said “Hockey Town North” is jumping at the prospect as what is to come.
    “It is an amazing feeling,” said Pachal. “Obviously, small market P.A. hasn’t seen a team like this in a while.
    “It is fun to be back on the map. The city is buzzing all the time. It is definitely a fun and a tough rink to play in back at the Hauser.”
    Home ice advantage could prove to be big as the Raiders have yet to lose in five post-season games at home and were 28-4-2 at the Art Hauser Centre during the regular season.
    So far in the playoffs, attendance for Raiders home game hasn’t dipped below 3,000 at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre. The last three Raiders home games were sellouts with 3,289 people turning out for each of those contests.
    Kelly said his club gets pumped up from the home ice atmosphere.
    “It is crazy,” said Kelly. “I’ve never see the rink like that in Game 5 (in the 6-1 win over the Blades).
The Raiders faithful will be ready to bring it in the conference final.
    “It was pretty crazy. It was three deep (on the concourse) and soldout. It is so fun to play in.
    “There is going to be a lot of fan support, and we are going to use that to our advantage.”
    The winner of the series between the Raiders and Oil Kings will take on the winner of the WHL’s Western Conference Championship series between the Vancouver Giants and Spokane Chiefs in the WHL final. The Giants finished second overall in the WHL at 48-15-3-2, while the Chiefs were eighth overall at 40-21-5-2.

Saskatoon/P.A. get Canada Russia Series games

The Blades and Raiders will each host a Canada Russia Series game.
    On Thursday, the CHL announced Saskatoon and Prince Albert will host the final two games of the CIBC Canada Russia series set for this coming November.
    The Canada Russia Series in an annual six-game event that is often used as a final evaluation point for Hockey Canada to determine its final list of invites for the final selection camp for Canada’s world junior team in December.
    In the series, a Russian national junior team will take on all-star teams from each of Canada’s three major junior leagues. The Russian team will face all-star teams from the QMJHL, OHL and the WHL twice each.
    The Saskatoon Blades will host the fifth game of the series on Nov. 13 at the SaskTel Centre. The Prince Albert Raiders will host the sixth and final game of the series on Nov. 14 at the Art Hauser Centre. The start times of the games are still to be determined.
    Saskatoon hosted games in this series on two previous occasions in 2005 and 2014. Prince Albert hosted this series on one other occasion back in 2008.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Remarkable season breathes new life into Blades

The Blades give a final salute to the SaskTel Centre crowd on Sunday.
    Apathy had to be the biggest concern for the Saskatoon Blades at the start of their recently completed season.
    Way back on Sept. 20, 2018, I typed a column that said the Blades would make the WHL playoffs in 2018-19. I said I had a gut feeling the Blades would have a playoff spot locked up when March 2019 begins. You can even check that piece out by clicking right here.
    Having missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, I was expecting followers of the team to be so jaded they would fall down with laughter.
    Instead, that prediction was greeted mostly with silence, which might have been a more scary reaction. The playoff drought that included two heartbreaking near misses in 2016-17 and 2017-18 seemed to quell most enthusiasm for the team.
    It seemed people were waiting for the tangible result of a post-season playoff berth before showing any interest in the squad.
Kirby Dach is one of the Blades biggest stars.
    In 2017-18, the Blades posted a 35-33-3-1 record to fall three points shy of the Prince Albert Raiders (32-27-9-4) for the second and final wildcard berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
Saskatoon had the seventh most points in the 12-team Eastern Conference, which meant two teams with records worse than the ones the Blades had made the post-season.
    I thought the nucleus was in place for the team to make a leap upwards in the standings. The Blades made a bigger leap than I had imagined.
    Fast forward to this past Sunday at the SaskTel Centre, the Blades were eliminated from the post season dropping a 6-3 decision to their archrivals, the Raiders, in Game 6 of a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series before 10,521 spectators.
    Following the contest, the Blades received a salute from the crowd including a nod of respect from most of the large contingent of Raiders followers.
    Along the way the Blades finished fourth overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record to qualify for the post-season for the first time since 2013, while picking up honourable mention status in the final CHL Top 10 rankings. They officially locked up a playoff berth on Feb. 23 with a 4-3 win after a tiebreaking shootout over the Kootenay Ice at the SaskTel Centre.
Nolan Maier ensured the Blades had solid play between the pipes.
    They swept the Moose Jaw Warriors, who were seventh overall in the WHL at 40-20-6-2, in the first round of the playoffs.
    The Blades bowed out to a Raiders team that topped the WHL standings at 54-10-2-2 and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    How crazy was this Blades season?
    Last Oct. 25, the Blades acquired a left-winger named Gary Haden, who was in his 19-year-old season, in a trade with the Medicine Hat Tigers in exchange for forward Logan Christensen, who was also in his 19-year-old season. The deal at the time didn’t raise too many eyebrows as both had relatively average major junior careers to that point in time.
    Haden went on to become “Uncle” Gary in Saskatoon posting 30 goals, 32 assists and a plus-23 rating in 55 regular season games with the Blades. In his first nine games of the campaign with the Tigers, Haden posted one goal, two assists and was a minus-four.
    The Airdrie, Alta., product became a fan favourite and one of the Blades most well-known players.
Emil Malysjev made huge strides in his rookie season with the Blades.
    The “Uncle” Gary moniker was coined by Blades manager of communications and community relations Tyler Wawryk, who often comes up with nicknames or catch phrases to associate with Blades players.
    Alanna Priestner, who is the wife of Blades general manager Colin Priestner, helped use those nicknames and catch phrases to create novelty T-shirts for six of the team’s players in Haden, Kyle Crnkovic, Kirby Dach, Max Gerlach, Riley McKay and Nolan Maier. The T-shirts became hot sellers and in the process that inventive move helped make them more household names in the city.
    The Blades had the skill on the ice to back everything up. On Monday, it was announced that three Blades members cracked NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings.
    Dach, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 195 pounds, was rated third among North American skaters. The skilled centre finished third in team scoring recording 25 goals, 48 assists and a plus-15 rating in 62 regular season games.
Chase Wouters provided the Blades with stellar leadership as captain.
    Swedish import defenceman Emil Malysjev, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 187 pounds, cracked in at the 192nd spot among North American skaters. He recorded three goals, 14 assists and a plus-13 rating in 63 regular season games with the Blades and made great strides improving in his rookie WHL campaign.
    Maier, who stands 6-feet and weighs 173 pounds, was rated 22nd among North American goaltenders. He posted a 36-10-6 record, a 2.64 goals against average, a .910 save percentage and four shutouts in 53 regular season games.
    The Yorkton, Sask., product was invited to join Canada’s men’s team for the under-18 worlds that start Thursday and run through to April 28 in Ornskoldsvik and Umea, Sweden.
    Dach, Malysjev and Maier will all be entering their respective 18-year-old campaigns next season.
Uncle” Gary Haden became a fan favourite with the Blades.
    The Blades had a great overage crew. Offensive-defenceman Dawson Davidson was the team’s leading scorer recording 13 goals and 62 assists for 75 points. He posted a plus-27 rating appearing in all of the Blades 68 regular season games.
    Right-winger Max Gerlach was second in team scoring with 42 goals, 32 assists for 74 points. He was a plus-seven appearing in all of the Blades 68 regular season games.
    Defenceman Brandon Schuldhaus showed he was the ultimate pro. Acquired in a trade last Oct. 2 with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Schuldhaus appeared in 61 regular season games with the Blades posting eight goals, 23 assists and a plus-15 rating.
    Chase Wouters became the team’s charismatic captain, and he has two more years of eligibility remaining. He got the playoffs started in style scoring the overtime winner to give the Blades a 3-2 victory over the Warriors in Game 1 of their first round series at the SaskTel Centre.
The Blades celebrate a goal from Ryan Hughes (#53).
    McKay became a fan favourite for his feisty style of play. While he topped the WHL with 149 penalty minutes, he showed an offensive touch putting up 12 goals and 17 assists appearing in all of the Blades 68 regular season games.
    Ryan Hughes proved to be a slick right-winger acquired in a Jan. 10 trade with the Portland Winterhawks. In 61 regular season games split between the Winterhawks and Blades, Hughes recorded 30 goals, 39 assists and a plus-13 rating.
    Defenceman Nolan Kneen was another astute acquisition arriving from the Kamloops Blades last Nov. 26. In 55 regular season games split between the Blazers and Blades, Kneen posted six goals, 39 assists and a plus-24 rating.
    Colin Priestner and his staff have to be given huge credit for assembling the Blades roster. During the season, Priestner added seven players via that trade route that bolstered the defence and created more depth on the forward lines.
    Out of all the Blades staffers, Priestner had to have felt the biggest sense of relief that this season came to pass. The same likely goes for his father, Mike, who bought the team before the start of the 2013-14 campaign. 
    The reward finally came from all the rebuilding that took place in the previous five non-playoff years.
Kyle Crnkovic turned heads with his play as a rookie.
    Priestner’s biggest hire might have been bringing Mitch Love on board as head coach last May.
    Love joined the Blades after spending the previous season as an assistant coach and assistant to the general manager of the Everett Silvertips. He was on the Silvertips staff for a total of seven seasons.
    It seemed there were few veteran staffers from other WHL teams that tried to test the youthful duo on the gamesmanship front noting Priestner is 35-year-old and Love is 34-years-old. Both showed they have some veteran savvy on that front.
    The rest of the Blades coaching staff played a key role in the team’s results this season. Associate coach Ryan Marsh played a huge part in shaping the club’s play on the ice. Returning assistant coaches Ryan Keller and Jerome Engele and returning goalie coach Tim Cheveldae all added their positive influences.
The fans poured into the SaskTel Centre in big numbers in the playoffs.
    That trio is popular in the Blades dressing room and seems to keep cementing spots as lifers on the team.
    Off the ice, the Blades worked a big group game getting into the community with various events.
All the hard work finally paid off with more people arriving at the SaskTel Centre. For the longest time, it appeared the Blades would have their worst average attendance since posting a franchise worst record of seven wins, 52 losses, 11 ties and two overtime setbacks in 2003-04.
    A surge at the gates in late regular season games helped the Blades avoid that distinction as they drew an average of 3,911 spectators for their 34 home regular season dates. That was a slight improvement from the average attendance of 3,851 spectators per game the club drew for 36 home dates in 2017-18.
HC Mitch Love and his staff have given great guidance to the players.
    In their five home dates in the 2019 playoffs, the Blades averaged 7,428 spectators per game concluding with the massive 10,521 spectators that came out for Sunday’s game.
    In Saskatoon, the Blades have been rejuvenated.
    Of course, the composition of the Blades roster next season will have a different composition than this past season. The team leadership has to remind fans that every season writes its own story.
    There will be times that factors out of team’s control like injuries can derail a season.
    At the moment, all the excitement with the Blades feels new again. The team brought back its traditional blue and gold Pac-Man look before the start of the 2017-18 campaign believing these good times were around the corner.
The Blades gained new life in a big way in 2018-19.
    Going forward, you can be sure everyone on the Blades staff will do their best to try and make what happened this season become a habit and maybe get the team to hit heights it has never see before.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Overagers proud to put Blades back on map

Max Gerlach (#9) and Riley McKay (#39) embrace after Sunday’s game.
    Brandon Schuldhaus would have loved to have played in his 50th career WHL playoff game, but grizzled veteran still marvelled at how far the Saskatoon Blades have come.
    The Calgary product, who turned 21-years-old in February, has almost seen it all since entering the league at the start of the 2015-16 campaign appearing in 250 regular season games with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Red Deer Rebels, Moose Jaw Warriors and finally the Blades.
    Having dressed for one regular season game early in the 2018-19 campaign with the Warriors, Schuldhaus was acquired by the Blades last Oct. 2 in a trade that sent a fifth round 2019 WHL Bantam Draft pick and a second round 2020 WHL Bantam Draft selection to the Warriors.
Blades D Brandon Schuldhaus marks Raiders LW Parker Kelly.
    In 62 combined games with the Warriors and Blades this season, Schuldhaus piled up eight goals, 23 assists for 31 points and a plus-16 rating in the plus-minus department. His assists, points and plus-minus totals were career highs and his goal total matched a career high.
    Schuldhaus, who is known as an ultimate pro on the WHL circuit, was a key member on the Blades defensive unit.
    The Blades had a remarkable season finishing fourth overall in the WHL with a 45-15-8 record and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Saskatoon swept the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, before bowing out in six games to the Prince Albert Raiders in a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series.
    The Raiders, who finished first overall with a 54-10-2-2 record, claimed a 6-3 victory in Game 6 over the Blades on Sunday at the SaskTel Centre to pull the curtain on Saskatoon’s season. 
Brandon Schuldhaus played in 49 career WHL playoff games.
    That final game was played before a campaign high crowd of 10,521 spectators.
    “I think there is a lot for us to be proud of,” said Schuldhaus, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds. “After not being in the playoffs for a few years, I don’t think anyone at the beginning of the year would have expected us to be having the team that we had and having the success that we had.
    “Obviously getting the city and the support behind us here this last few months it has been great. I think this is a really big year for the Blades as an organization, and I think there is a lot to be proud of.”
    Schuldhaus went to the WHL final with the Thunderbirds as a rookie in 2015-16 on a club that had stars like Mathew Barzal and Ethan Bear. Schuldhaus skated in 49 WHL post-season games between his time with the Thunderbirds, Rebels, Warriors and Blades.
The Blades faithful cheers one of their team’s goals on Sunday.
    Had the Blades forced a Game 7 in their series with the Raiders, which would have been played tonight in Prince Albert, Schuldhaus would have skated in his milestone 50th playoff game.
    “It is obviously disappointing,” said Schuldhaus. “It is not the outcome we were looking for.
    “Just having some time to reflect on the season and the group that we have, there is a lot to be proud of. I think coming together as fast as we did. When we started this season, we didn’t have the same team we have now.
    “We have a lot of new additions and that kind of thing. I think it is a lot to be proud of the way we came together so quick and jelled as a group. I’m really proud of that for sure.”
Dawson Davidson had a career season with the Blades.
    Schuldhaus was one of seven additions that joined the Blades via the trade route this season and one of three veterans that were added to the back end along with Nolan Kneen and Reece Harsch, who are both in their 19-year-old campaigns.
    Schuldhaus’s sentiments were shared by fellow Blades overagers in Dawson Davidson and Max Gerlach.
    Davidson, who is an offensive-defenceman, was acquired by the Blades on Jan. 8, 2018 in a trade with the Regina Pats. The Blades sent import defenceman Libor Hajek to the Pats in exchange for Davidson, centre Tristen Robins and a first round selection in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft.
    Davidson entered the WHL at the start of the 2014-15 campaign with the Kamloops Blazers and was dealt to the Pats partway through the 2016-17 season.
    Appearing in all of the Blades 68 regular season games in this past campaign, Davidson topped the team in scoring with 13 goals and 62 assists for 75 points to go along with a plus-27 rating. His goals, assists, points and plus-minus totals were all career highs.
One of Dawson Davidson’s supporters displays a sign at the SaskTel Centre.
    Davidson, who turned 21-years-old earlier this month, was pleased to help the Blades reach a new high, while ended his time in the league on a personal high.
    “It has been a lot of ups and downs,” said Davidson. “Obviously, I’ve been with three different teams.
    “I’ve kind of seen the ways of junior hockey, but I couldn’t be more excited to end it off with a great organization here in Saskatoon. I feel like I got a lot better as a player, and that is kudos to my teammates and to our amazing coaches here, who kind of let me blossom into the player that you know I always felt I could become.
Raiders D Brayden Pachal and Blades D Dawson Davidson shake hands.
    “We made strides this year. I think at the start of the year not many people thought we were going to do too much. I think they thought next year was kind of our year.”
    Davidson enjoyed seeing bigger crowds pack into the SaskTel Centre as the regular season drew to a close and the march into the playoffs went on. The Blades averaged 3,911 spectators over 34 regular season home dates and that average burst to an average of 7,428 spectators per game for the team’s five home playoff dates.
    During Game 6 on Sunday, Davidson made sure to take a moment to take in the sight of seeing 10,521 spectators packing into his team’s home rink.
    “It was unbelievable,” said Davidson. “The fans here, I can’t thank them enough.
    “It has been absolutely amazing. Throughout the season and especially in the playoffs here, we could feel the whole city come behind us there. To see that crowd tonight, it meant a lot to us.”
Max Gerlach jets into the offensive zone for the Blades.
    Gerlach entered the WHL at the start of the 2015-16 campaign with the Medicine Hat Tigers. The product of Flower Mound, Texas, was dealt to the Blades on Jan. 10, 2018 in exchange for right-winger Bryan Lockner, a first round selection in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft and a second round selection in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft.
    From that first season, Gerlach has scored 30-or-more goals in each of his four seasons in the WHL picking up the nickname “Texan Sniper” along the way.
    This past season, the sharpshooting right-winger, who turned 21-years-old earlier this month, appeared in all of the Blades 68 regular season games piling up career highs in goals (42), points (74) and plus-minus (plus-seven).
    He plans on spending some down time in Saskatoon before heading home and figuring out what his next step in hockey is.
    “I am just going to enjoy some time here with my friends,” said Gerlach, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 160 pounds. “I’ll probably stay about a week or so.
Max Gerlach had a career high 42 goals this season.
    “It is a long drive back to Dallas, so I have some time to think about it. I will kind of see what is going to go on there. Like I said, I made a tonne of new brothers in there.
    “I feel really lucky. I couldn’t be happier to end my career as a Blade.”
    Gerlach said you could feel there was a different culture on the team when Mitch Love was brought in as head coach and Ryan Marsh arrived as an associate coach before the current campaign began. The Texan was pleased the Blades brought back Ryan Keller as an assistant coach.
    The now graduating player believes the team is in a good place under the leadership of owner Mike Priestner and general manager Colin Priestner.
    “With the organization, I think the Blades kind of used to be a team that you knew you could come in and kind of push around,” said Gerlach. “We definitely changed that here.
    “We know we are a team that doesn’t mind getting physical. We are going to beat you off the puck. We’re going to make life tough on you.
Max Gerlach scored in bunches his entire WHL career.
    “I think the organization is in super good hands from all the way to the top from Mike and Colin and then all the way down to the players and coaching staff and everything. I think the Blades are in a really good spot for the future.”
    Love said losing out to the Raiders stings. 
    Still, he was proud of how far the overagers and the rest of the players have brought the Blades as an organization.
    “I said that to the guys also after the game,” said Love. “You’ve rejuvenated Blades hockey in the community.
    “I think it worked from a hockey, slash, fan, slash, business perspective to play the Raiders in the second round of playoffs. It was the perfect storm for everybody.
The Blades give a final salute to their faithful at the SaskTel Centre.
    “I think just hockey in this area for both organizations, and especially in this city, that was pretty impressive to see.”

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Sunday, 14 April 2019

Hannoun’s hatty pushes Raiders past Blades into WHL Eastern Conference final

Dante Hannoun (#17) celebrates his hat trick goal.
    He had a hat trick and a marriage proposal from the stands.
    You could say overage centre Dante Hannoun experienced an eventful Sunday night.
    The Delta, B.C., product scored three times and was a plus-three in the plus-minus department helping his Prince Albert Raiders down the host Saskatoon Blades 6-3 in Game 6 of a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series.
    Throughout the contest, one Raiders fan among the 10,521 spectators, which the biggest gathering for a Blades home game in the regular season and playoffs, kept flashing a sign that said, “Marry me Hannoun.”
    When asked about the sign and if he will accept, Hannoun let out a big laugh.
    “I don’t know,” said Hannoun, while smiling and chuckling. “I’m not sure. I don’t know who it is.”
Dante Hannoun has scored nine goals in this year’s WHL playoffs.
  On the serious side, Hannoun was pumped to be able to help his team with a hat trick performance.
    “Obviously, it was pretty special,” said Hannoun, who has nine goals in this year’s WHL playoffs. “You have to give it to them.
    “They battled hard.”
    Thanks to Hannoun’s heroics, the Raiders took the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Blades 4-2. Prince Albert advances to the WHL Eastern Championship series for the first time since 2005, when they fell in a seven-game decision to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
    The Raiders will face the Edmonton Oil Kings in this year’s best-of-seven Eastern Conference final. The Oil Kings topped the Central Division and finished fifth overall in the WHL with a 42-18-4-4 record.
This Raiders fan really likes overage centre Dante Hannoun.
    Game 1 of that series is set for this coming Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
    Following the Sunday’s win over the Blades, Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid reflected on how far his club has come with a main core group that has been together since the start of the 2016-17 campaign. In 2016-17, the Raiders finished with the third worst regular season record in the WHL at 21-44-5-2.
    This season, the Raiders have been backed solidly by “Hockey Town North” pretty much for the whole campaign as they finished first overall in the WHL with a 54-10-2-2 record in the regular season and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
Noah Gregor had a pair of assists for the Raiders.
    Now the Raiders will play for a conference title.
    “I’m really happy for, you know, the city and the organization, but mostly those kids over there,” said Habscheid. “I told them after I said you know what, when we lost we lost with class and when we win we plan on winning with class too.
    “I can remember a couple of years ago a lot of teams kicked sand in those kids’ faces. They taunted them and laughed at them and said the (Prince Albert midget AAA) Mintos were better than us. I just said to remember that.
    “We have a long ways to go yet. I’m happy for them, because if anyone deserves it, those players do to feel good about themselves and about the way they play and the way they conduct themselves. It is a class group of players who play hard, and I’m fortunate to coach them.”
    The Raiders and Blades were meeting for the 14th time including action in the regular season and playoffs.
Ryan Hughes had a pair of goals for the Saskatoon Blades.
    The teams traded goals in the opening frame, which saw the Raiders hold a huge edge in territorial play.
    Shortly past the midway point of the first, the Raiders jumped in front 1-0, when power forward Parker Kelly wired home a shot from the right wing boards to the top left corner of the Saskatoon goal.
    The Blades pulled even at 1-1 with a power –play goal from speedy forward Ryan Hughes with 4:15 remaining in the opening frame.
    Prince Albert jumped out to a 3-1 lead to start the second. At the 5:08 mark of the frame, a shot by Raiders overage star centre Noah Gregor rang the post and squirted out to an open right side of the Saskatoon goal.
The Blades faithful cheers a goal from Ryan Hughes.
    Hannoun popped the rebound home with a backhander to give the Raiders a one-goal edge.
    At the 8:18 mark of the second, the Raiders struck on the power play to go up by two. Star right-winger Brett Leason had the puck in the left slot and fed a perfect backdoor pass to import winger Aliaksei Protas, who popped home his fourth of the post-season.
    With the Raiders still having a big edge in territorial play, the Blades stopped the bleeding with 4:36 remaining in the second frame. Working on the power play, Hughes wired home his second tally of the game through a screen to cut the Raiders lead to 3-2.
Sean Montgomery scored in the third period for the Raiders.
    The Raiders seemly put the game away scoring twice in the first 5:27 of the third. At the 3:33 mark, Hannoun netted his second of the contest to put the Raiders up 4-2.
    Working on the power-play, overage centre Sean Montgomery wired in a shot from close in by the left side of the Blades goal to give the visitors a 5-2 edge at the 5:27 mark of the frame.
    Raiders captain Brayden Pachal said it was big for his team to get that two-goal surge to start the third.
    “They were coming on quick,” said Pachal. “They are a great team.
    “They weren’t going to just quit. You have to give a lot of credit to them over there.
    “That was an amazing series. I think we enjoyed it, they enjoyed it and the fans enjoyed it.”
The Raiders faithful cheers one of their team’s goals.
    Even down 5-2, the Blades didn’t quit.
    Saskatoon provided a scare just 29 seconds after Montgomery’s goal. Blade centre Tristen Robins tipped home a pass from defenceman Nolan Kneen between the legs of Raiders star netminder Ian Scott to cut the Raiders lead to 5-3.
    The Blades couldn’t get any closer, and Hannoun completed his hat trick scoring into an empty net with 1.3 seconds remaining in the third.
    “It is a tough way to end there, but I am really proud of our group,” said Blades overage defenceman Dawson Davidson, who had an assist on Sunday. “We gave that team everything we had.
Tristen Robins scored in the third period for the Blades.
    “That is a good team over there that we were playing. They’ve been good all year. I think we pushed them to the brink.
    “Like I said, it was not the result we wanted, but we’re not hanging our heads. We made a lot of strides as an organization this year. Hopefully, that helps moving forward.”
    Nolan Maier made 26 saves to take the setback in goal for the Blades. Scott turned away 19 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Raiders.
    Gregor and Leason both had a pair of assists in the win for the Raiders. Between Brett and his father Darryl, who was the starting quarterback of the Regina Rams football team in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Leason family is 9-2 against Saskatoon based squads in the post-season.
Brett Leason had a pair of assists for the Raiders.
    The Blades had breakout season that saw them finish fourth overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record and earn honourable mention status in the final CHL Top 10 rankings. That ended a string of missing the post-season for five consecutive campaigns.
    Saskatoon swept the Moose Jaw Warriors 4-0 in a best-of-seven first round series. The Blades had their series tied with the Raiders at 2-2 after four games.
    The Raiders closed the series out with a 6-1 win in Game 5 on Friday in Prince Albert and Sunday’s 6-3 victory in Saskatoon.
    “I didn’t like our last two hockey games,” said Blades head coach Mitch Love. “We came up short to a very good hockey team over there.
The Raiders celebrate advancing to the WHL Eastern Conference final.
    “The initial reaction is disappointment. At the end of the day, that is a good hockey team over there. They were built that way.
    “We are going to have to lick our wounds a little bit, but also, I am extremely proud of our guys and the season they had.”
    Between action in the regular season and playoffs, the Raiders won 10 of the 14 head-to-head encounters with the Blades. While the Raiders will be turning their focus towards the Oil Kings, Kelly wanted to pass on a nod of respect to his team’s archrivals in Saskatoon.
The Blades give a final salute to their fans.
    “I think this series and our (regular) season series, actually, I think we really ignited that rivalry again back to one of the top in the league,” said Kelly. “It is so fun to play in.
    “This rink has 10-K in it, and it is so fun to play in. It is loud and noisy. You know their fans are pretty good too.
    “It is a lot of fun coming up these next couple of years. The rivalry will be great.”
    NOTES – The Blades scratched backup goalie Dorrin Luding (injury), winger Zach Huber, defenceman Majid Kaddoura and associate player call-ups in forward Colton Dach and defenceman Alex Ozar. Utility player Randen Schmidt made his third appearance of the post-season for Saskatoon.
The Raiders and Blades start their post-series handshakes.
    The Raiders scratched star left-winger Cole Fonstad for a second straight game with an undisclosed injury. Physical forward Justin Nachbaur sat out the first of a two-game league imposed suspension for receiving an interference major penalty and a game misconduct in the Raiders Game 5 win over the Blades on Friday. Cole Nagy, who is a forward that finished playing his 17-year-old midget AAA season with the Saskatoon Blazers, dressed as an associate player call up.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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