Friday, 22 September 2017

Blades deliver stirring tribute to Gordon, Broncos leave with opening night win

Chris and Bruce Gordon embrace during a Blades pre-game ceremony.
    The Saskatoon Blades gave a spectacular night to former captain Bruce Gordon and brought a work ethic that was a fitting tribute to the retired 28-year member of the Saskatoon Police Service.
    The work ethic on the ice wasn’t enough to deliver a victory on the opening night of the WHL regular season. The visiting Swift Current Broncos displayed their battle toughness from last season’s playoff run, where they went to a deciding Game 7 in a second round series before bowing out to the Regina Pats.
    Swift Current entered the second period of Friday’s clash training 2-1 and rolled off four straight goals – including two into an empty net – to come away with a 5-2 victory.
    Broncos 17-year-old left-wing Riley Stotts netted the equalizer at the 3:43 mark of the third converting a pass from star right-winger Tyler Steenbergen that came across the face of the Saskatoon net to force a 2-2 tie. At the 12:21 mark, Broncos right-winger Kaden Elder slipped a pass from the deep right corner of the Saskatoon zone to overage centre Conner Chaulk in front of the net. Chaulk promptly buried what turned out to be the winning goal giving the Broncos a 3-2 lead.
Bruce Gordon shakes hands with current Blades captain Evan Fiala.
    Swift Current captain Glenn Gawdin and Russian defenceman Artyom Minulin each scored empty-net goals to complete the Broncos third period surge.
    The Broncos prevented the Blades from putting a sweet cap on what was a special night, but the night was still special for the host side despite the final outcome of the contest.
    A total of 7,460 spectators came to the SaskTel Centre, and it was pretty apparent they came to pass along a thank-you to Gordon, who is battling terminal Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. When it came time to start the 25-minute pre-game tribute to Gordon, pretty much everyone was in their seats.
    Gordon came to the Blades in a trade with the Medicine Hat Tigers early in the 1980-81 campaign, and the grinding winger became the club’s captain in 1981-82, which would be his final campaign in the major junior ranks.
Bruce Gordon drops the puck for the ceremonial faceoff.
    He moved on to build a distinguished career with the Saskatoon Police Service starting out on regular patrol, becoming a detective sergeant in the sex crimes unit and then to major crimes. Gordon became well-known for cracking cases that appeared to be unsolvable.
    At age 50, he retired from policing to study law at the University of Saskatchewan with the goal to become a defence lawyer. Gordon graduated from law school last spring, but on June 8, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. On June 29, a special ceremony was held at the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatoon to call the 54-year-old to the bar.
Chris Gordon, left, speaks to the crowd at the SaskTel Centre.
    This ceremony is traditionally held in autumn, but an exception was made in Gordon’s case to hold the ceremony earlier due to his cancer diagnosis.
    Gordon was never the most talented player on the ice, but he stood out due to his hard work, determination and his ability to step in and protect his teammates. In 112 regular season games with the Blades, Gordon collected 17 goals, 53 assists and 552 penalty minutes.
    Winnipeg Jets play-by-play voice Dennis Beyak was the Blades assistant general manager during Gordon’s years, and he returned to Saskatoon emcee the pre-game ceremony. A total of eight former teammates paraded out to centre ice wearing the Blades tradition Pac-Man logo and blue and gold colour scheme the team returned to on a full-time basis this season.
The Blades push home a greasy goal to go up 2-1.
    Also on hand was former Blades coach and general manager Daryl Lubiniecki and former Blades owner Jack Brodsky.
    Once all the alums were introduced, Gordon made his way on to the ice along with his wife, Chris, son, James, and daughter, Jillian Bodnar. When Gordon appeared, the crowd immediately rose to their feet to deliver a warm standing ovation.
    Former teammate Brian Skrudland, who went on to have a lengthy playing career in the NHL, and Saskatoon Police inspector Patrick Nogier, who was a former WHL goalie with the Kamloops Blazers and Broncos, both delivered heartfelt speeches.
    After Skrudland and Nogier were done speaking and a rousing ovation went up from the crowd, Chris Gordon came up to the podium to deliver a thank you to the crowd on behalf of the family. Originally, the plan for the tribute ceremony was to allow the members of Gordon’s family to enjoy the festivities without having to speak to the crowd.
Tyler Steenbergen set up the goal that sparked a Broncos’ rally.
    Due to the warm emotional atmosphere, Chris went on to thank the crowd for making that night special, and she told everyone to live life to the fullest.
    The pre-game ceremony concluded with Brodsky and current Blades owner Mike Priestner presenting the Gordon family with a framed jersey, a “Be Like Bruce” banner was unveiled in the rafters of the SaskTel Centre, and Bruce dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. Bruce actually felt well enough that he and his family remained at the game until about the midway point of the second period, which turned out to be one of his longest outings in public in recent days.
    On the ice, the current day Blades took the cue. They controlled much of the first period and exited the frame with a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal from right-winger Caleb Fantillo, who scored on a knuckleball shot.
    After Gawdin scored 58 seconds into the second period to tie things up at 1-1, Blades 19-year-old right-winger Brad Goethals batted the puck into the Broncos goal off a greasy battle in front of the net to put the hosts up 2-1. That set the stage for the Broncos rally in the third period.
Conner Chaulk celebrates his winning goal for the Broncos.
    Joel Hofer turned away 23 shots to earn the win in goal for the Broncos.
    Ryan Kubic stopped 27-of-30 shots to take the loss in the Blades net.
    The Broncos return to action on Wednesday, when they travel to Regina to take on the Pats (7 p.m. local time, Brandt Centre).
    The Blades are off until Friday, Sept. 29, when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    While the Broncos came away with the win on Friday night, the Blades can feel proud they delivered a special night to a former captain in Bruce Gordon, who will forever be a community hero in Saskatoon.

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