Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Blades come out looking good with goalie moves

Ryan Kubic takes part in his first practice with the Blades.
    You never want to trade an all-star netminder, but sometimes the business of major junior hockey pushes you to make that move.
    On Wednesday, the Saskatoon Blades acquired 19-year-old goalie Ryan Kubic from the Vancouver Giants in exchange for a second round pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft. Right after that move, the Blades dealt overage puck stopper Logan Flodell, who was a second team WHL Eastern Conference all-star last season, to the Swift Current Broncos in exchange for a fifth round selection in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft and a second round pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft.
    Moving Flodell allowed the Blades to get down to the Canadian Hockey League limit of three overage players. The 20-year-olds who remain on Saskatoon’s roster include high-scoring forwards Cameron Hebig and Braylon Shmyr and defenceman Evan Fiala, who is also the club’s captain.
    The loss of Flodell, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 170 pounds, is a big one. He played a key part in helping the Blades get close to earning a playoff berth last season posting a 22-20-4 record, a 2.81 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and three shutouts.
    Saskatoon put together a 28-35-7-2 record to finish ninth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and five points back of the Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2), who locked up the conference’s second and final wildcard berth.
Blades GM Colin Priestner speaks with reporters.
    Kubic, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 186 pounds, has played his entire WHL career with the Giants appearing in 109 regular season games posting a 32-58-12 record, a 3.53 goals against average, a .895 save percentage and five shutouts. The St. Andrews, Man., product has been in Vancouver on a full-time basis for the past two seasons, where he accumulated 106 of his career starts.
    The Giants have been in the midst of rebuilding during Kubic’s career and have finished second last in the entire WHL in each of the past two campaigns. Last season, Vancouver posted a 20-46-3-3 mark, which was the third worst record in franchise history dating back to when the Giants started in 2001.
    Kubic has been shelled over the past two campaigns, and he made a club record 1,681 saves for the season in 2016-17 posting a 15-32-6 record, a 3.67 goals against average, a .895 save percentage and one shutout. He was named the Giants rookie of the year in 2015-16 and played for one of the Canadian entries at the World under-17 Hockey Challenge held in November of 2014 in Sarnia, Ont.
    During his time in the WHL, Kubic played behind weak defensive units, but he still managed to keep his stock up as a strong goaltender. He became expendable, when the Giants decided to go with a younger tandem in goal in sophomore David Tendeck, who turns 18 in November, and rookie Todd Scott, who is a 17-year-old Albertville, Minn., and is pegged with having a huge upside.
    When you are a general manager in major junior hockey, it is always prudent to kick tires and figure out all your options on the trade front.  Blades general manager Colin Priestner has to be given big credit for doing the background work to make the moves he did on Wednesday.
    This season, there is a glut of players on the 20-year-old front in the WHL, where every club has at least three overage players and most teams need to shed players to get down to the league limit of three. Due to that fact, it is not easy to move an overager to another team.
Ryan Kubic gets set in goal during a drill in practice.
    WHL clubs have until Oct. 10 to cut down to three overage players, and the Blades could have been in a spot where they might have had to waive one of the four overagers they had on that day.
Priestner knew he had to take advantage of an opportunity, if one presented itself.
    “They were difficult deals to make, because any way we went with the four (overage) guys we were going lose a great player in one of the four,” said Priestner. “I wanted to get ahead of this before the season started and the pre-season ended and just have it shored up and have our 20-year-olds know that these are our guys.”
    Now Priestner has a capable starting netminder playing behind a defensive unit that was stronger than the one in Vancouver and can potentially suit up for two complete seasons. The Blades get to keep Fiala, who is the heart of the defensive unit and one of the club’s best ambassadors in the community.     
    They will also benefit from having the talents of Hebig and Shmyr, who are both top end forwards that will likely put up strong offensive numbers.
    The Blades scored the second fewest goals as a team in the league last season at 190, so it is always prudent to keep players like Hebig and Shmyr, who both have a history of putting up points. The presence of Hebig and Shmyr will allow the Blades to gradually work their younger forwards into bigger roles.
Logan Flodell had an all-star season in 2016-17 with the Blades.
    “This gives us a chance to have Shmyr and Hebig together on that first line,” said Priestner, whose Blades face the Broncos on Friday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre in the regular season open for both sides. “It is shaping up to be one of the best lines in the league and a line that we can throw up against anybody.
    “I just didn’t feel comfortable rushing those (younger) guys into first line roles. I knew they would battle and they’d bring everything they have, but I think they are going to be able to thrive under those circumstances. I think we are a much more well-balanced team now.”
    With Flodell arriving in Swift Current, the Broncos might be looking to cut the overage netminder they currently have in Taz Burman, who has put up good numbers playing for three different teams in his WHL career but has never been a starter for a full campaign. The Broncos still have a trio of overage forwards on their roster in Glenn Gawdin, Arthur Miller and Conner Chaulk. Swift Current has the potential of being one of the WHL’s stronger teams this season.
    As for the Blades, they have their overage question settled, because Priestner made the best out of what was a tough situation on that front. Had he held on to Flodell, the Blades could have had a bigger hole to fill on their roster when Oct. 10 rolled around.

Pats top CHL pre-season rankings despite departures

Sam Steel and his Pats top the CHL’s pre-season rankings.
    In what has to be viewed as a bit of a surprise, the Regina Pats, who will host the Memorial Cup this coming May, topped the Canadian Hockey League’s pre-season top 10 poll.
    A panel of NHL scouts selects the CHL top 10 rankings, and they must think that everyone else’s rosters in major junior hockey has been shuffled as much or more than the Pats roster has this past off-season.
    Regina finished first overall in the WHL last season posting a 52-12-7-1 record and advanced to the WHL Championship series. The Pats fell in the best-of-seven WHL title series 4-2 to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    The fact the Pats topped the CHL pre-season poll is a curious one, when you consider they lost a number of quality players. Captain Adam Brooks, who was arguably one of the top three forwards in the league, was lost to graduation as was winger Dawson Leedahl and defenceman Chase Harrison.
    Imports Sergey Zborovskiy and Filip Ahl are both heading on to careers in the professional ranks in North America and Europe respectively, and they would have ate both import and overage spots had they returned. Overage defenceman Connor Hobbs appears to be a lock to play in the system of the NHL’s Washington Capitals this year. Overage winger Austin Wagner is a question mark, because he is slated to miss the first half of the season due to shoulder surgery.
    Backup goaltender Jordan Hollett was traded to the Medicine Hat Tigers, and star 18-year-old winger Nick Henry is expected to miss an extended span of time due to shoulder surgery.
    The top CHL ranking should also be questioned due to the fact a WHL club has won only one of the last nine Memorial Cup championship tournaments with the Edmonton Oil Kings victory back in 2014. In the last Memorial Cup tournament held in May in Windsor, Ont., the Thunderbirds lost all three of their games and were outscored 18-3 in the process.
    Until teams from the WHL start doing better in the Memorial Cup tournament like winning the event on a little more of a frequent basis, the top team in the CHL rankings should be either from the Ontario Hockey League or the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Teams from the OHL have won five of the last nine Memorial Cup tournaments included the last three in a row.
    In August, I wrote a column that said the Pats might stumble out of the gate, and it can be found right here.

Borbandy to stay with Huskies

Walk on defender Teagan Borbandy will stick with the Huskies in 2017-18.
    Defender Teagan Borbandy will be sticking with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team for the 2017-18 season.
    Huskies head coach Steve Kook passed on confirmation on Monday that Borbandy had earned a spot on the team. She was trying out for the Huskies as a walk on.
    The Langdon, Alta., product, who is celebrating her 20th birthday today, is entering her third season of U Sports eligibility having played the past two campaigns with the Red Deer College Queens women’s hockey team in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference ranks. In 29 career regular season games with the Queens, Borbandy, who is a defensive defender that stands 5-foot-4, has two assists and 22 penalty minutes.
    She helped the Queens win an ACAC title in the 2015-16 campaign. Before joining the Queens, Borbandy played three seasons with the De Winton, Alta., based Rocky Mountain Raiders female midget AAA team from 2012 to 2015, and finished her time with the Raiders as captain.
    The Huskies are 3-1 in pre-season play having posted 6-0 and 2-0 victories this past Saturday and Sunday respectively over the Mount Royal University Cougars in Calgary.
    The Dogs continue their pre-season schedule this coming Friday, when they host the MacEwan University Griffins at 7 p.m. at the ancient Rutherford Rink. The two teams go at it again this coming Saturday at 2 p.m. at Rutherford.
    U of S opens the regular season on Oct. 6 hosting the U of Regina Cougars at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

Back in the Express with Willoughby named captain

Huskies star forward Kaitlin Willoughby takes the puck from an opponent. 
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a story about Kaitlin Willoughby being named the captain of the Huskies women’s hockey team.
    The 22-year-old forward is entering her fifth and final year of eligibility with the Huskies. The Prince Albert product first turned heads in the U Sports ranks being named the rookie of the year for women’s hockey in the 2013-14 campaign.
    She scored the double overtime winner in a series deciding Game 3 of the 2014 Canada West conference championship series against the U of R Cougars to give the Huskies their first conference championship. The Huskies proceeded to win a bronze medal at that season’s U Sports nationals.
    In 106 career regular season games, Willoughby has piled up 41 goals and 51 assists. She is on the verge of being the fourth player in the history of the Huskies women’s to score 100 career points.
    The story on Willoughby becoming captain can be found right here.

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