Saturday, 17 March 2018

Gerlach ensures fond farewell for Blades overagers

Max Gerlach (#9) hugs Blades captain Evan Fiala (#47).
    Max Gerlach made sure the overage players for the Saskatoon Blades had a great send off. 
    The 19-year-old right-winger from Flower Mound, Texas, potted his second career WHL hat trick on Saturday night to lift the Blades to a 5-4 regular season victory over the Prince Albert Raiders before 9,624 spectators at the SaskTel Centre. With the Blades eliminated from WHL playoff contention, Saturday’s outing marked the final game for Saskatoon’s overage players in captain Evan Fiala, left-winger Braylon Shmyr and netminder Tyler Brown.
    “You have to take it all in,” said Fiala, who resides just outside of Saskatoon in Clavet. “I’m sure it is going to hit me a lot harder a little later.
    “As of right now, I am just trying to enjoy it all. During a game, you never look in the crowd. You just stay focused, and you kind of do your own thing.
    “I was just taking that second to kind of look around and take it all in.”
Evan Fiala scored the winning goal for the Blades on Saturday.
    The Blades built leads of 4-1 and 5-2 before Raiders import defenceman Sergei Sapego, who comes from Belarus, scored twice in the final two minutes of the third period to round out the final outcome.
    An empty-net goal by Fiala with 2:51 to play in the third period turned out to be the winning goal. The Raiders pulled netminder Curtis Meger with 4:10 to play in the third period for an extra attacker.
    “It is a lot of emotions out there for sure,” said Fiala, who plans to play in the East Coast Hockey League with the South Carolina Stingrays based in North Charleston, South Carolina, next season. “At the time, I didn’t think it was the game winner.
    “I was just enjoying it. I wanted it so bad. Thankfully, it took a couple of bounces and went in.
    “That was awesome. It was a blast.”
    Russian import defenceman Mark Rubinchik had the Blades other tally.
    Spencer Moe and captain Curtis Miske each netted singles for the Raiders. The Raiders were without standout power forward Parker Kelly on Saturday. He was serving a one-game league imposed suspension for taking a spearing major penalty in his team’s 2-1 loss in Prince Albert on Friday to the visiting Blades.
Braylon Shmyr led the Blades in scoring this season.
    When Saturday’s game finished, Shmyr finished the season as the Blades leading scorer appearing in all of the club’s 72 regular season games collecting career highs in goals (37) and assists (51). During a WHL career that included five complete regular seasons split between the Brandon Wheat Kings and the Blades, Shmyr appeared in 300 regular season games piling up 111 goals and 129 assists.
    The Calgary, Alta, product was happy his 300th career and final WHL regular season game was a win.
    “It felt amazing to get my 300th game tonight at home,” said Shmyr. “To get the win, you can’t say anything better. To go out like that, it means a lot to me knowing I had a great five years in this league.
    “I didn’t have any expectations or milestones at all. I just wanted to go out here every game to play my best hockey.”
    Before Fiala scored his empty-net goal, Shmyr, who was held pointless on Saturday, had a couple of chances to score into the empty cage but ultimately couldn’t muscle the puck home.
Tyler Brown won his last three starts in goal for the Blades.
    “Definitely, you want to score a goal in your last hockey game,” said Shmyr, who is still weighing his hockey options for next season. “I almost had it.
    “It was kind of funny when I had a couple of chances and couldn’t bury it. It is alright.”
    Brown turned away 31 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Blades. The Winnipeg, Man., product started each of the Blades last three games and won them all.
    He was acquired by the Blades in a trade with the Regina Pats before the WHL trade deadline passed on Jan. 10. Brown spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Pats and backstopped them to Game 6 of the WHL championship series last year.
Max Gerlach had a hat trick for the Blades on Saturday.
    In the fall, Brown plans to join the U Sports men’s hockey ranks and suit up with his hometown University of Manitoba Bisons. When Saturday’s game ended, he was still processing the end of his major junior career.
    “That was bittersweet,” said Brown. “I had a lot of fun playing junior hockey, and I am excited to see what is next.
    “I really wanted to go out hot and just feel good about ending my career that way.”
    Meger turned away 27-of-31 shots to take the setback in goal for the Raiders.
    The Blades finished the regular season with a 35-33-3-1 record to actually sit seventh overall in the 12 team WHL Eastern Conference. Due to the WHL’s playoff format where the top three teams in each division and the two best records after that in each conference make the playoffs, the Blades missed the post-season finishing sixth in the East Division.
The Blades celebrate Evan Fiala’s empty-net goal.
    They finished three points behind the Raiders (32-27-9-4) for the second wildcard berth in the Eastern Conference.
    The Raiders will face the Moose Jaw Warriors, who finished first overall in the league with a 52-15-2-3 record, in a best-of-seven first round series. Game 1 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw.
    Going into next season, Gerlach, who was acquired in a deal just before the WHL trade deadline on Jan. 10 from the Medicine Hat Tigers, said he likes the depth the Blades have. He was looking forward to seeing what standout rookie netminder Nolan Maier was going to look like next season as a 17-year-old sophomore.
    “I think it is a lot of good feeling in the room right now,” said Gerlach. “Obviously, we wish we could be stepping into the playoffs right now.
The Blades overage players pose for a picture with their teammates.
    “It feels really good right now to have so much confidence kind of going into the summer. I think we built a lot of chemistry throughout the lineup and a lot of confidence back there in our net with Nole (Nolan Maier). I think that there are going to be lots of hopes and a big opportunity next year to go far.”

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