Sunday, 10 December 2017

Rookie Maier steals show for Blades once again

16-year-old netminder makes 34 stops in 3-2 win over Raiders

Blades netminder Nolan Maier makes one of his 34 saves on Sunday.
    Nolan Maier had cautious expectations venturing into his first full season of junior hockey as a 16-year-old rookie.
    Starting 10 straight WHL regular season games for the Saskatoon Blades wasn’t part of those expectations. With Blades veteran 19-year-old goalie Ryan Kubic out day-to-day with a knee injury, Maier made his 10th straight start playing goal for the club on Sunday at the SaskTel Centre in the team’s annual “Teddy Bear Toss” game.
    The Yorkton, Sask., product turned away 34 shots to help the Blades pull out a 3-2 victory against their archrivals, the Prince Albert Raiders, before 4,023 spectators. Maier, who has made 12 appearances for the Blades, seems to keep raising his level of play with each game of experience he adds.
Blades goalie Nolan Maier turns away pressure from the Raiders.
    “Playing in pre-season, I didn’t feel like I played to my potential, and I wasn’t comfortable there,” said Maier. “Now, I am playing these games, and having my confidence up, I feel really good about my game.
    “I know I can play at this level.”
    Maier came up with big saves for the Blades early and often.
    In the first period, he denied Raiders star overage centre Jordy Stallard on a couple of big chances. First, Maier stoned Stallard in close and then the puck stopper made a smart save on a flip shot from the Raiders forward.
    With the Blades holding a 3-2 edge in the third, Maier had to come up with a big bailout stop. A Saskatoon defenceman gave the puck away in his own zone to Raiders 17-year-old rookie left-winger Nikita Krivokrasov.
Blades goalie Nolan Maier turns away a shots during a net scramble.
    Krivokrasov had a breakaway on the Blades goal, but he was robbed by Maier’s glove hand.
    “He (Maier) has done really well,” said Blades star overage centre Cameron Hebig. “He has been battling hard for us.
    “Coming in as a 16-year-old, he prepares well, and he carries himself well. It is nice to have a goalie like that who cares and wants to win for us and battles hard for us.”
    Sunday’s contest was a back-and-forth one. At the 4:58 mark of the first period, Hebig tucked home the “Teddy Bear Toss” goal popping home a feed that came across the front of the Prince Albert net from linemate Braylon Shmyr.
Cameron Hebig, front row centre, scored the Blades teddy bear goal.
    “I think everyone was excited to get going, especially with the teddy bear toss,” said Maier, whose team improved to 12-16-2-1. “We wanted to do it for our fans.
    “It felt really good coming out of the first period (up) 1-0.”
    The Raiders pulled even at 1-1 at the 3:48 mark of the second, when Stallard roofed a power-play goal top corner on Maier.
    The Blades jumped back in front 2-1 almost three minutes later, when Czech defenceman Libor Hajek sprung right-winger Brad Goethals on a breakaway with a stretch pass.
    Goethals’ first shot was stopped by Raiders netminder Ian Scott, but the Saskatoon forward knocked home the rebound to give the host side the lead.
Overage centre Cameron Hebig jets into the offensive zone for the Blades.
    Prince Albert forced a 2-2 tie heading into the second intermission, when Raiders captain Curtis Miske knocked home a greasy goal by the left side of the Saskatoon net during a net scramble situation.
    The Blades went ahead for good at the 5:04 mark of the third, when 18-year-old left-winger Alec Zawatsky roofed home his third of the season to put the hosts up 3-2.
    Scott turned away 21 shots to take the setback in goal for the Raiders (12-12-5-2).
    The Blades pulled to within four points of the Raiders in the standings for the second wildcard playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    “It was a really gutsy effort on our half,” said Blades head coach Dean Brockman. “Guys found a way to get it done.
Overage centre Jordy Stallard had the Raiders first goal.
    “It certainly wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win. This is the team we are trying to catch, so that was big for us.”
    Brockman said he has been pleased with how Maier has come on. The netminder started the regular season in the junior A ranks with his hometown Yorkton Terriers and joined the Blades on a full-time basis on Nov. 14 after playing for Team Canada Black at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge held jointly in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C.
    “He is a super kid,” said Brockman. “I would have never have guessed that he could start 10 in a row and play the way he did today.
    “I can’t say enough about him. He gives us a chance to win, and that is all I can ask.”
    So far this season, Maier, who stands 6-feet and weighs 168 pounds, has appeared in 12 games posting a 4-6-1 record, a 3.78 goals against average, a .894 save percentage and one shutout.
Alec Zawatsky scored the winning goal for the Blades on Sunday.
    Maier said he didn’t really think about the fact he was making his 10th straight start and just focuses on his next upcoming game.
    “I didn’t think I would be getting much of a shot I’ve got at the very start like I am now,” said Maier. “In saying that, I feel great with the opportunity Dean (Brockman) gave me.
    “It sucks that Ryan (Kubic) is hurt, but I am just trying to make the most of my opportunity now.”
    Brockman said he might not fully realize how amazing Maier’s start has been, when you consider the netminder is still a 16-year-old rookie. The bench boss said you can tell Maier is getting more used to the WHL game.
    “Obviously, he is going to improve and get better,” said Brockman. “I think it is just more comfortability.
    “He just has a composure about himself, and he’s got that will to win, and that is what I love about him.”
    The Blades return to action on Tuesday, when they host the Lethbridge Hurricanes (14-13-2) at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. The Raiders also resume their schedule on Tuesday, when they travel to Swift Current to take on the Broncos (22-7-2).

Hanna delivers kick butt talk before “Girls Rock Game”

Claire Hanna give a girl empowerment talk on Saturday.
    Former Canadian national women’s volleyball team player and Global sports reporter Claire Hanna captivated an audience that filled two lower bowl sections at the SaskTel Centre.
    Hanna deliver a girls empowerment talk before the Saskatoon Blades “Girls Rock Game” on Saturday. Hanna gave her speech before the host Blades fell to the visiting Kamloops Blazers 4-1.
    During her address that was taken in by a number of young girls, Hanna told how the first sport she took up was badminton before switching over to volleyball. She talked about what it was like to overcome the disappointment of being cut by the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds women’s volleyball team.
    Hanna told the story of how she switched positions from middle to libero and returned to the team’s active roster to become part of three straight U Sports national championship victories from 2008 to 2010.
A number of young girls listened in on Claire Hanna’s speech on Saturday.
    She also talked about the power of speaking up and told how she confronted the decision makers at the UBC student newspaper after they buried the story of her volleyball team’s national championship win in 2008. Hanna went into detail of how that encounter ended up with unexpected positive results in helping the student newspaper with sports coverage.
    Besides discussing her university days, Hanna talked about her time playing for Canada and transitioning to her career in media. Hanna did a tremendous job in delivering an uplifting message, and it should have made the little girls in the audience feel good about what they can do in their respective futures.

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