Sunday, 17 December 2017

Blades make a habit of beating Pats, head to WHL Christmas break on a high

The Blades celebrate a power-play goal from Josh Paterson.
    Saskatoon Blades seem to relish playing the Memorial Cup hosting Regina Pats this season.
    On Sunday night at the SaskTel Centre, the two squads met for the fourth time in the current campaign, and the Blades skated away with a 3-2 victory before 3,534 spectators. Saskatoon has won three of the four head-to-head matches between the two sides, which includes earning a 4-3 overtime victory over the Pats in Regina on Friday. Last season, the Pats claimed five out of the six encounters between the two clubs.
    Blades head coach Dean Brockman was pleased his team put in an inspired effort on Sunday before heading off on a Christmas Break. The Blades dropped a 5-0 decision to the Kelowna Rockets on Saturday at the SaskTel Centre, and Brockman didn’t want game to be the last thing on the mind of his players as they head home.
    “You want to win your last game before you go home for Christmas,” said Brockman, whose team has won four of their last five contests. “We just didn’t really want to focus on last night.
Blades goalie Nolan Maier passes the puck to a teammate.
    “I think everybody knew what happened in the room. Guys really came through for us. When we look back at the last five games, we talked about trying to get on a roll and feel good about ourselves.
    “Guys are going to talk to their own friends, and you want to talk to them about being on a roll and how good the team is doing instead of trying to avoid them and telling them that you are losing.”
    At first, the Pats, who are feeling heat from back home for not playing better as a Memorial Cup host squad, got out of the gate quickly holding a 6-3 edge in shots on goal early. Blades 16-year-old rookie netminder Nolan Maier continued his hot play ensuring the visitors didn’t get on the scoreboard during that stretch.
Pats C Jake Leschyshyn battles Blades LW Brad Goethals.
    Maier set the tone early on making a robbery style glove save on Pats overage left-winger and Saskatoon area product Wyatt Sloboshan. The netminder anticipated making the save remembering how Sloboshan beat him for a goal on Friday night in Regina.
    “I saw Wyatt Sloboshan backdoor,” said Maier. “I remember on Friday night on the first shot of his it squeaked through me, and I wanted revenge on that one.
    “Luckily, I made the save and kind of stayed my ground at the end, but it felt really good.”
    After that stop, the game’s momentum changed. At the 11:08 mark of the first, Blades overage left-winger Braylon Shmyr slipped a backhand shot past Pats overage goaltender Tyler Brown for a power-play marker to give the host side a 1-0 lead.
The Pats react to a Blades goal.
    With 24.9 seconds to play in the opening frame, the Blades went ahead 2-0, when 17-year-old sophomore centre Chase Wouters slipped home a shot from the left side boards through a screen.
    The Pats cut the Blades lead to 2-1 at the 4:53 mark of the second when overage centre Matthew Bradley roofed a power-play goal past Maier.
    Before the second intermission rolled around, the Blades restored their two-goal edge. Working on another power play, Blades 16-year-old right-winger Kirby Dach found linemate Josh Paterson with a pass alone in front of the Regina goal. Paterson’s first shot was stopped, but he cashed in his rebound to give the Blades a 3-1 edge.
Braylon Shmyr had a goal and two assists for the Blades.
    With 5:20 to play in the third, Pats centre Jake Leschyshyn scored a gritty goal for his 10th marker of the season to cut the Blades lead to 3-2, but that was as close as the visitors would get.
    Maier made 27 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Blades. Brown turned away 22 shots to take the setback in goal for the Pats.
    Following the game, Maier said he enjoyed beat veteran goalies like Brown, who backstopped the Pats to a berth in the WHL Championship series last season.
    “That is my goal all year,” said Maier. “I love that. I love doing it, and I’m really excited. Hopefully, I get to do some more.”
    The Yorkton, Sask., product has won his last four straight starts in goal for the Blades turning away 119 of 129 shots for a .922 save percentage over that stretch.
    “I think the biggest thing is my confidence is up,” said Maier. “I probably talk about that every interview I do, but I think that is the biggest part of it and staying calm.
    “I know I can play at this level, and I think it is showing.”
Matthew Bradley had a goal for the Pats.
    The Blades used a pair of midget AAA call ups at forward in their past two games in Kyle Crnkovic and Ethan Mack, who both played their first two respective WHL regular season games. Crnkovic, who is 15-years-old, was selected in the first round and 10th overall by the Blades in the WHL Bantam Draft held last May, and he plays for the Northern Alberta Xtreme Midget Prep team based in Edmonton, Alta.
    Mack, who is 16-year-olds, was selected by the Blades in the eighth round and 157th overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, and he plays for the Edmonton SSAC Boston Pizza Athletics.
Crnkovic enjoyed getting his first taste of regular season play in the WHL.
    “It has been a great experience,” said Crnkovic. “The guys have treated me really well.
    “They just said play your game and be yourself and try not to over complicate it. I just tried to do whatever I could to help the team win.”
    With the win, the Blades improve to 15-17-2-1 to move into a tie with the Prince Albert Raiders (13-14-5-2) for the second wildcard berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with 33 points in the standings. The Raiders have a game in hand.
    The Pats, who have an overtime loss and three regulation losses in their last four games, fall to 16-17-3 to hold the first wildcard berth in the Eastern Conference two points ahead of both the Blades and Raiders. The Blades and Raiders have one and two games respectively in hand on the Pats.
Josh Paterson (#61) netted the winning goal for the Blades.
    Due to the fact the Pats are sitting in a position where they are close to being on the outside of the WHL playoff picture, the criticism the team will face in Regina will likely heighten due to the fact the “Queen City” hosts the 100th Memorial Cup this coming May.
    The Pats embark on their Christmas break and return to action on Dec. 27, when they travel to Brandon to face the Wheat Kings (24-8-0-1).
    The Blades head out on their Christmas break and are set to return to action on Dec. 27, when they host the Raiders at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    Brockman said he wants his players to enjoy the time off.
The Blades celebrate their win over the Pats.
    “I don’t want to send them any message that they have to think about hockey,” said Brockman. “Mentally, it is tough.
    “You want to just make sure you’re responsible, behaved and do the right things and enjoy family. I’ll talk to them about hockey when they come back.”
    Maier said he plans to return to Yorkton to indulge in family time.
    “I’m most looking forward to seeing my family and relatives,” said Maier. “I haven’t been able to see them in a while, so it is going to be good to catch up with them.”

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