Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Dach, Maier have Blades back in business against Raiders

Kirby Dach had one of his best games Tuesday as a member of the Blades.
    It is “series on” thanks to Kirby Dach and Nolan Maier.
    The Saskatoon Blades draft eligible stars were their teams two best players on Tuesday night, and they got their club back into their best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series with their archrivals the Prince Albert Raiders. The Raiders topped the WHL’s regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2 record and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    Playing before a crowd of 7,641 spectators at the SaskTel Centre, Dach scored the game’s lone goal and Maier made 26 saves in goal to deliver the Blades to a 1-0 victory in Game 3 of the series.
    With the win, the Blades cut the Raiders lead in the best-of-seven set to 2-1. Game 4 is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
Nolan Maier made 26 saves to pick up the shutout Tuesday for the Blades.
    Last August, Dach and Maier were members of Canada’s under-18 men’s team that capture gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, which was held in Edmonton and Red Deer.
    Blades head coach Mitch Love was part of that Canadian team as an assistant coach.
    Winning gold gave Dach and Maier great experience on a big stage and set them both up to have great campaigns in 2018-19. They played key parts in helping the Blades finish fourth overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record and earn an honourable mention status in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    In Tuesday’s win over the Raiders, Dach set the tone early for the night.
    At the 4:21 mark of the first period, Blades defenceman Nolan Kneen fired a point shot on the Raiders net and the puck rebounded to sit loose by the left side of the Prince Albert goal.
The Blades celebrate Kirby Dach’s goal on Tuesday.
    Dach fought his way past Raiders captain Brayden Pachal and backhanded home the loose puck to put the Blades up 1-0, which would turn out to be the final result of the contest.
    Dach, who is projected to be a first round selection in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, was the best skater at both ends of the ice playing a strong two-way game.
    Of course, the Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., product drew obvious attention for his brilliant play at the offensive end of the ice that could have resulted in even more goals for Saskatoon.
    In the second period, Dach fed a beauty pass across the face of the Prince Albert goal that feisty linemate Riley McKay just missed trying to tap into the net.
    Later Dach cut through the Raiders top defensive pair in Pachal and Zack Hayes only to have a backhander turned away by Raiders star netminder Ian Scott.
The SaskTel Centre faithful cheer Kirby Dach’s goal.
    To add to how impressive that rush was, Pachal topped all players in plus-minus during the WHL regular season with a plus-76 rating, while Hayes was second with a plus-71 rating.
    Near the end of the second period, Dach had another huge chance to score on a short-handed rush. He cut wide on Raiders import defenseman Sergei Sapego and rang a forehand shot off the post of the Prince Albert goal.
    In the third, Dach was in perfect position for another scoring chance. He gathered the rebound of a shot taken by McKay in front of the Prince Albert net, but the point-blank chance was denied by Scott.
Kirby Dach was solid at both ends of the ice for the Blades.
    “I love playing in these big games in the big moments,” said Dach in a media scrum after the game. “Any player that can find that extra gear and keep pushing forward is going to be a difference maker in the series, and that is what I want to be.”
    After recording 25 goals, 48 assists and a plus-15 rating in 62 regular season games for the Blades, Dach is finding another gear in the post-season. He has five goals and two assists in the Blades seven playoff games to date including a highlight reel tally in the Blades 3-2 setback in Game 2 to the Raiders in Prince Albert on Sunday.
    While Dach loves playing in front of the home faithful, he enjoys being the villain on the road in Prince Albert and hopes he continues to be the target of taunts in the Raiders home rink, the Art Hauser Centre.
Ian Scott makes one of his 26 saves in goal for the Raiders.
    “I love that stuff,” said Dach. “If I am not getting booed, I am not doing something right, so I enjoy all of that.”
    Maier earned his first career shutout in the WHL post-season on Tuesday and blanked the Blades for a second time in the 2018-19 campaign including action in the regular season and playoffs.
    Last Dec. 9, Maier had a sensational 32-save performance in a 1-0 victory over the Raiders at the SaskTel Centre.
    On Tuesday, Maier made a key pad save on Raiders star overage centre Dante Hannoun in the opening 20 minutes.
    Later in the first, Maier turned away Sapago on a chance after the rearguard received a sweet drop setup pass from Raiders star right-winger Brett Leason.
A frenemies moment between a Blades fan and a Raiders fan.
    In the second period, Maier robbed Raiders star overage centre Noah Gregor on a wraparound with a pad save.
    In the third, Maier made eight key stops to keep the Raiders off the scoreboard and deliver victory to the Blades.
    “I think it is really big,” said Maier. “I think for our crowd and our team it gets everyone pumped up.
    “It is a big momentum change. Maybe we can turn that to our advantage and kind of go shove it in their face. It will be huge.”
    Maier had an outstanding regular season for the Blades appearing in 53 games posting a 36-10-6 record, a 2.64 goals against average, a .910 save percentage and four shutouts.
Kirby Dach controls the puck at the point for the Blades on the power play.
    The Yorkton, Sask., product has upped his game in the post-season posting a 5-2 record, a 2.32 goals against average, a .915 save percentage and one shutout.
    He overshadowed a great game from Scott, who stopped 26 shots to take the setback in the Raiders net.
    The Raiders came to the SaskTel Centre with a sizable contingent of supporters, but they were drowned out by the Blades faithful, who saw their club win their first game in the second round of the playoffs since 2010.
    Maier said the support of the home faithful was something his team noticed.
    “The fan support we’ve been getting in this city is huge, and I think it has helped us all the way,” said Maier. “We can’t thank them enough for everything they have done.”
The Blades celebrate their win on Tuesday.
    Thanks to everything Dach and Maier did on Tuesday, they have put the Blades back in their series with the Raiders and guaranteed Prince Albert isn’t going to be an automatic winner.

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