Friday, 29 September 2017

Tigers take Blades to school

Blades D Libor Hajek, left, and Tigers RW Max Gerlach battle for the puck.
    What started out as a tough day for the Saskatoon Blades off the ice didn’t get any easier on the ice.
    At around 3 p.m., the Blades sent out a tweet on social media to announce that former captain Bruce Gordon, who was battling pancreatic cancer, had passed away. The retired 28-year veteran of the Saskatoon Police Service was 54-years-old.
    The Blades honoured Gordon during a magnificent pre-game ceremony before 7,460 spectators at the team’s home opener just seven nights earlier back on Sept. 22. When it came time to play on Friday night, news of Gordon’s passing was still making its way among the 2,457 spectators at the SaskTel Centre.
    A moment of silence was held for Gordon before Friday’s game.
    Saskatoon proceeded to find out you don’t get any breaks in a rough spot when you play one of the WHL’s elite franchises. The visiting Medicine Hat Tigers came in, rolled out to a 6-0 edge after two periods and cruised to a 6-2 victory.
Max Gerlach had two goals and two assists for the Tigers.
    The Tigers also happen to be the first WHL club Gordon played for, and he helped the Tigers advance to the WHL Eastern Conference championship series during his rookie campaign in 1979-80. Gordon came to the Blades in a trade early in the 1980-81 season and remained with the Saskatoon club through the end of the 1981-82 campaign.
    The Blades roster is still on the younger side, and they were taken to school on Friday night by a visitor that plays at a high level night in and night out.
    The Tigers were a step ahead of the Blades all night. Medicine Hat got the puck deep in the Saskatoon zone, and the Tigers forwards forechecked the Blades defenders hard.
    Medicine Hat’s players didn’t exactly get physical in the corners. They were on top of the Saskatoon skaters using stick checks to cause turnovers and making it miserable to for the Blades to advance the puck up the ice.
    When the Tigers had the puck, their up tempo offensive style hit top gear. Medicine Hat’s players seem to just throw the puck around almost with a high comfort level knowing their passes were going on to be on the tape of the stick of an open teammate.
Captain Mark Rassell (#27) score twice for the Tigers.
    Just 6:33 into the first period, the Tigers assumed a 2-0 lead on a pair of goals from star 19-year-old right-winger Max Gerlach. Gerlach’s second tally came off a Blades giveaway.
    The Blades did have some fight in the opening 20 minutes holding a 9-8 edge in the shots on goal department. Saskatoon wasn’t able to find that one moment of traction to turn the game around, and the Tigers buried them in the second period.
    Working on the power play, Tigers overage captain Mark Rassell scored on the back door of the Saskatoon goal to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead at the 6:51 mark of the second. Exactly one minute later, Tigers defenceman Cole Clayton fired home a point shot to put the visitors up 4-0.
Gage Ramsay, left, netting the Blades second goal in the third period.
    At the 10:09 mark, the Tigers were working on another power play, and left-winger Ryan Jevne did his best imitation of Regina Pats superstar Sam Steel driving home a set-up pass from the left corner boards on the edge of the faceoff circle to give Medicine Hat a 5-0 lead.
    That tally chased Blades starting goaltender Ryan Kubic from the net. He made 11 saves on 16 shots.
    Joel Grzybowski, who is an 18-year-old rookie, turned aside 15-of-16 shots in a relief effort for Saskatoon. Rassell beat the Hafford, Sask., product on a breakaway with 13 seconds to play in the second period.
    Gerlach had helpers on two of the Tigers four goals in the second stanza.
Goaltender Michael Bullion (#30) freezes the puck for the Tigers.
    In the third, the Tigers were content to dump the puck into the Blades zone and proceed to forecheck and trap. The visitors still got 13 shots on goal in the final frame.
    Saskatoon got a little burst of momentum scoring two goals 49 seconds apart from each other coming from the sticks of Chase Wouters and Gage Ramsay to cut the Medicine Hat lead to 6-2. The Tigers called a timeout after the second Blades goal to settle things down. The hosts were unable to muster anymore chances to get closer on the scoreboard.
    Overage netminder Michael Bullion turned away 21 shots to help the Tigers improve to 2-1. Medicine Hat travels to Prince Albert on Saturday to face the Raiders.
The Tigers celebrate their 6-2 victory over the Blades.
    The Blades return to action on Saturday, when they host the Calgary Hitmen at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    Having fallen to the Swift Current Broncos 5-2 in their home opener, the Blades are 0-2 having falling to two teams that expect to be among the WHL’s best this season. While the Blades don’t have the combination of talent and experience the Broncos and Tigers have, the Saskatoon side has to come to the rink and play at a higher pace to cut the drawback of that factor down.
    If the Blades don’t play at a higher pace, there will be a few more 6-2 scores in favour of the opposition in the future.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to