Friday, 8 December 2017

Blades’ Maier shows he isn’t your ordinary 16-year-old

Yorkton product starting to make a mark in Saskatoon’s goal

Nolan Maier is growing with the Blades as a 16-year-old rookie.
    Nolan Maier has had a baptism in fire to start his WHL career.
    The Yorkton, Sask., product was added permanently to the roster of the Saskatoon Blades on Nov. 14 after playing goal for Team Canada Black at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge held jointly in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C. In three appearances, Maier posted a 1-2 record, a 3.02 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and one shutout. He had the best save percentage among netminders who started three or more games.
    As a 16-year-old goalie with the Blades, Maier was slated to see apprentice type action playing goal behind 19-year-old veteran Ryan Kubic. Maier had played his first regular season game with the Blades on Oct. 7 against the Pats in Regina, and he made 34 saves and gave up seven goals in a 7-3 loss to this season’s Memorial Cup hosts.
    Still, Maier made some big saves, and you could see why the Blades selected him in the second round and 25th overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. During the pre-season and that first regular season outing, you could tell Maier had talent, and all he lacked was experience playing in the WHL. He started the campaign in the junior A ranks with the Yorkton Terriers.
    When WHL clubs have a 16-year-old rookie goalie on their roster, those teams try to get that puck stopper’s feet wet and gradually working him into a more active role. Besides learning the league, 16-year-old goalies like all 16-year-old players are adjusting to living away from home usually for the first time and juggling high school studies with hockey responsibilities.
    WHL teams usually want all 16-year-old rookies to gain experience with the league and temper expectations on those players, especially if they are a high Bantam Draft pick.
Nolan Maier made 48 saves in a shutout of the Portland Winterhawks.
    The Blades best plans took a turn shortly after Maier returned to Saskatoon in November. Kubic went down with a knee injury, and Maier was pushed into the starting role.
    He has started the last eight straight games for the Blades and is blossoming right before the team’s eyes.
    Maier has statistics that are typical for a 16-year-old netminder. In 10 appearances, he has posted a 3-5 record, a 4.03 goals against average, a .890 save percentage and one shutout.
    The quality of his play has improved pretty much each time he has taken the ice to play goal for the Blades.
    The first obstacle was to get Maier, who stands 6-feet and weighs 168 pounds, his first career win. The Blades accomplished that on Nov. 24 at the SaskTel Centre, when they scored three times in the last 1:56 of the third period to erase a 5-3 deficit and down the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings 6-5.
    With his first win nailed down, Maier’s next challenge came playing every contest on the team’s five-game road trip through the WHL’s U.S. Division. He stopped 171-of-185 shots over those five contests for a .924 save percentage. The Blades posted a 2-3 record, but Maier gave Saskatoon a realistic chance to win every time out.
    His most impressive performance came last Sunday in Portland, when he made 48 stops in a 4-0 win over the host Winterhawks. The Winterhawks top the WHL’s Western Conference with a 20-8-1 record and are rated fourth in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top 10 rankings.
    Maier has played big when the Blades have needed him to, and he performed well beyond what a 16-year-old rookie should. Still, he is a 16-year-old rookie, and he will likely face some adversity. It would still be wise to temper expectations.
Logan Maier has started eight straight games for the Blades.
    Kubic is listed as being out day-to-day with a knee injury, so Maier’s string of starts might be close to an end. If Maier does keep his run of consecutive starts for the Blades going, the team in front of him can feel confident the young netminder is improving rapidly, and he gives the club a chance to win every night even against the toughest teams in the league.
    The Blades (11-15-2-1) return to action on Saturday when they host the Kamloops Blazers (13-15-1) at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. That contest is the team’s “Girls Rock Game,” and it features a girl empowerment talk from Claire Hanna, who is a former member of Canada’s national women’s volleyball team and a sports reporter for Global Saskatoon. Hanna’s talk is slated to run from 5:30 to 6 p.m. pre-game at the SaskTel Centre.
    On Sunday at 2 p.m. at the SaskTel, the Blades host the arch-rivals the Prince Albert Raiders in their annual “Teddy Bear Toss” game. Spectators are invited to throw stuffed animals on to the ice surface after the Blades score their first goal.

Blades hand down injury update, make trade

The Blades traded Joel Grzybowski to the Victoria Royals.
    Heading into action this weekend, the Blades posted an injury update on Friday.
    While 19-year-old goalie Ryan Kubic is listed as out day-to-day with a knee injury, the Blades have three forwards on their injury list including 17-year-old Michael Farren (shoulder, day-to-day), 19-year-old Gage Ramsay (groin, slated to return after Christmas break) and 19-year-old Caleb Fantillo (knee, 6-to-8 weeks).
    Big kudos to the Blades for releasing this information. Players usually receive a lot more get well wishes from the fans, when the fans know what a players’ injury is. The players can feel less guarded in letting information slip, and it allows them up to more freely represent the team during community appearances.
    In Fantillo’s case, he is a fan favourite, so news of his injury will give team supporters that much more initiative to wish him a speedy recovery.
    Besides the injury update, the Blades traded 18-year-old netminder Joel Grzybowski to the Victoria Royals for 18-year-old goalie Hunter Arps. Arps, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 165 pounds, was playing in the junior A ranks with the Melfort Mustangs posting a 6-1-1 record, a 2.66 goals against average, a .903 save percentage and one shutout in 10 appearances.
    Grzybowski, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 172 pounds, saw action in six games for the Blades this season posting an 0-1-1 record, a 4.31 goals against average and a .841 save percentage. He appeared in three games with the Battlefords North Stars in the junior A ranks posting a 3-0 record, a 2.32 goals against average and a .915 save percentage.

Huskies quartet to face Canada’s world junior prospects

Kendall McFaull, left, and Jordon Cooke deserve pro shots.
    A quartet from the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team are hoping to give the prospects for Canada’s world junior team a stiff test and maybe gain some interest from the professional ranks in the process.
    Netminder Jordon Cooke, defenceman Kendall McFaull, who is the Huskies captain, and forwards Josh Roach and Logan McVeigh will join a U Sports all-star team that will face the prospects looking to crack Canada’s world junior roster in a two game series. The U Sports all-stars will arrive in St. Catharines, Ont., for a training camp beginning on Monday. They will face the prospects for Canada’s world junior team in live game action on Wednesday and Thursday.
    Cooke, McFaull, Roach and McVeigh have all played a key part in helping the Huskies post a 13-2-1 record to sit second in the Canada West Conference. The Huskies are rated third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings.
    Cooke has posted an 11-2 record, a 2.34 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and two shutouts so far this season. His 54 career regular season victories ranks second on the Huskies all-time career list.
    McFaull is in his fifth year with the Huskies and has posted four goals, three assists and a plus-11 rating in the plus-minus department in 15 games.
    Roach is also in his fifth campaign with the U of S and has posted nine goals, 17 assists and a plus-14 rating to lead Canada West in scoring. His nine goals is a career high and his 26 points matches a career high achieved last season.
    McVeigh is in his third year with the Huskies and has posted six goals, 15 assists and a plus-six rating.
    All four are worthy of earning a professional contract and a spot on the U Sports all-star team. They should give Canada’s best major junior players all they can handle.
    This season’s world juniors run Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Buffalo, New York.

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