Tuesday, 12 September 2017

“No brainer” – Fiala named Blades new captain

Captain Evan Fiala, left, and HC Dean Brockman show off a third Pac-Man jersey.
    When it came time to speak to reporters about being named the new captain of his home area Saskatoon Blades, Evan Fiala was hit with a case of the nerves.
    “My stomach is still not settled here,” said Fiala. “Obviously, it feels good that is for sure.”
    The 20-year-old product of Clavet, Sask., which is located just outside of Saskatoon, was named the 58th captain in Blades team history during a press conference at Merlin Ford Lincoln on Tuesday, where the club also unveiled their new third alternate Pac-Man jersey. The gritty, stay-at-home defenceman became the first to put on and wear the new alternate jersey during the press conference’s festivities.
    The Blades acquired Fiala in a trade last December shortly before the WHL Christmas break from the Spokane Chiefs. In 70 games split between the Chiefs and Blades last season, Fiala recorded four goals, 15 assists, a plus-11 rating in the plus-minus department and 139 penalty minutes.
    Growing up in the Saskatoon area and being well liked in the community, Fiala said it was special to be named captain of the Blades.
    “It is a huge honour that is for sure,” said Fiala, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 212 pounds. “Every guy would love to have that.
    “With our team, it is not a big deal that is for sure. We have a lot of good guys who are more than capable. It is a pleasure to wear it that is for sure.”
New Blades captain Evan Fiala puts on the team’s new Pac-Man jersey.
    Blades head coach Dean Brockman said his team did a complete evaluation when it came to deciding who would be the club’s captain. The bench boss noted his squad has some younger players who were deserving and had been with the Blades longer than Fiala.
    Even with that fact in mind, Brockman said Fiala was the obvious choice for the role.
    “When you are picking a captain, you want to check the boxes,” said Brockman. “He has certainly checked more than other guys.
    “He just plays the game with a lot of passion. He wears his heart on his sleeve all the time.
    “When you are watching him in practice or whether you are watching him in the gym or whether you are talking to him, it is just you can have that adult conversation and the tough conversation with him, and he never takes it the wrong way. When you are on the same page, it makes things a lot easier.”
    While Fiala was short-spoken during the press conference due to nerves, Brockman said the rugged rearguard does command the Blades dressing room, and the other players listen when he says something. The veteran coach said Fiala leads by example in showing strong traits for other players to emulate.
Evan Fiala shows off the front of a new jersey.
    “We talk about the passion that we want to play with and show our fans that we want to have a work ethic second to none,” said Brockman. “(Fiala) is just one example.
    “He is that contagious kind of guy. When you have a contagious kind of guy like that, you need him to be your leader and to do things right and do it every day, and that is the toughest part.
    “We just found that the connections that he makes with his teammates were second to none.”
    Fiala’s community links were another characteristic that led to him being named the captain of the Blades. Since arriving in Saskatoon, Fiala has been active in making all the Blades community appearances.
    “He knows the Saskatoon Blades,” said Brockman. “He knows the area. He knows how important it is for us to have this team bigger in the community, bigger in events.”
    The Blades haven’t had a captain since they sent centre Wyatt Sloboshan to the Chiefs in the deal to acquire Fiala. Sloboshan was subsequently traded to the Regina Pats on Jan. 2, after electing to not rejoin the Chiefs after the WHL Christmas break.
    Saskatoon finished the 2016-17 campaign with three players as assistant captains in now graduated defenceman Bryton Sayers, import defenceman Libor Hajek, who is now in his 19-year-old season, and winger Braylon Shmyr, who is now in his overage year. Hajek is taking part in training camp activities with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
    Brockman said the Blades are still deciding who their assistant captains will be for the 2017-18 campaign.
Evan Fiala shows off the back of a new jersey.
    Last season, the Blades posted a 28-35-7-2 record to sit five points behind the Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2), who finished eighth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and earned the conference’s final playoff berth.
    “I know everyone from last year saw that we were that close,” said Fiala. “If we have a whole year like we did that second half, we will be just fine.”
    The rearguard described what type of passion he would like his side to play with to earn their first playoff appearance since 2013.
    “We’re coming out every game, and we are going to take that win from you that is for sure,” said Fiala.
    Besides being named the Blades captain, Fiala departs for the main training camp of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. He heads to camp as an undrafted and unsigned invite. Wings camp starts Friday and runs through to Tuesday in Traverse City, Mich., and Fiala heads to that camp with some positive momentum.
    “I felt it was important to send him off on a good note and to tell everybody whether it is Detroit or whoever is watching that he is a great leader,” said Brockman. “Those are the attributes you have to look forward to seeing.
    “I think he is the type of kid that if he goes there and plays well we feel we want him to stay there. Internally, I don’t want him to, but for his sake, we hope he goes there and does well. This is just a step in the direction to playing where we think he can play.”
    Fiala attended Wings development camp back in July, and he is looking forward to main camp, where he will attempt to turn heads to earn an NHL contract.
New Blades captain Evan Fiala speaks to reporters during a scrum.
    “It is a lot coming at me at once,” said Fiala. “I’m excited for it all. I’m ready for it.
    “Everyone who is there is obviously a good hockey player, so I am trying to take a little bit from everybody.”
    Fiala is one of four overage players the Blades have on their roster including centre Cameron Hebig, Shmyr and goaltender Logan Flodell. WHL clubs have to cut down to three overage players on Oct. 10.
    The Blades, who have a 3-2 record in the pre-season, close their exhibition schedule on Saturday, when they travel to Edmonton to take on the Oil Kings. They open their regular season schedule on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre against the Swift Current Broncos. The Blades plan to celebrate their return to their Pac-Man look at their home opener.

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