Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Overagers proud to put Blades back on map

Max Gerlach (#9) and Riley McKay (#39) embrace after Sunday’s game.
    Brandon Schuldhaus would have loved to have played in his 50th career WHL playoff game, but grizzled veteran still marvelled at how far the Saskatoon Blades have come.
    The Calgary product, who turned 21-years-old in February, has almost seen it all since entering the league at the start of the 2015-16 campaign appearing in 250 regular season games with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Red Deer Rebels, Moose Jaw Warriors and finally the Blades.
    Having dressed for one regular season game early in the 2018-19 campaign with the Warriors, Schuldhaus was acquired by the Blades last Oct. 2 in a trade that sent a fifth round 2019 WHL Bantam Draft pick and a second round 2020 WHL Bantam Draft selection to the Warriors.
Blades D Brandon Schuldhaus marks Raiders LW Parker Kelly.
    In 62 combined games with the Warriors and Blades this season, Schuldhaus piled up eight goals, 23 assists for 31 points and a plus-16 rating in the plus-minus department. His assists, points and plus-minus totals were career highs and his goal total matched a career high.
    Schuldhaus, who is known as an ultimate pro on the WHL circuit, was a key member on the Blades defensive unit.
    The Blades had a remarkable season finishing fourth overall in the WHL with a 45-15-8 record and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Saskatoon swept the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, before bowing out in six games to the Prince Albert Raiders in a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series.
    The Raiders, who finished first overall with a 54-10-2-2 record, claimed a 6-3 victory in Game 6 over the Blades on Sunday at the SaskTel Centre to pull the curtain on Saskatoon’s season. 
Brandon Schuldhaus played in 49 career WHL playoff games.
    That final game was played before a campaign high crowd of 10,521 spectators.
    “I think there is a lot for us to be proud of,” said Schuldhaus, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds. “After not being in the playoffs for a few years, I don’t think anyone at the beginning of the year would have expected us to be having the team that we had and having the success that we had.
    “Obviously getting the city and the support behind us here this last few months it has been great. I think this is a really big year for the Blades as an organization, and I think there is a lot to be proud of.”
    Schuldhaus went to the WHL final with the Thunderbirds as a rookie in 2015-16 on a club that had stars like Mathew Barzal and Ethan Bear. Schuldhaus skated in 49 WHL post-season games between his time with the Thunderbirds, Rebels, Warriors and Blades.
The Blades faithful cheers one of their team’s goals on Sunday.
    Had the Blades forced a Game 7 in their series with the Raiders, which would have been played tonight in Prince Albert, Schuldhaus would have skated in his milestone 50th playoff game.
    “It is obviously disappointing,” said Schuldhaus. “It is not the outcome we were looking for.
    “Just having some time to reflect on the season and the group that we have, there is a lot to be proud of. I think coming together as fast as we did. When we started this season, we didn’t have the same team we have now.
    “We have a lot of new additions and that kind of thing. I think it is a lot to be proud of the way we came together so quick and jelled as a group. I’m really proud of that for sure.”
Dawson Davidson had a career season with the Blades.
    Schuldhaus was one of seven additions that joined the Blades via the trade route this season and one of three veterans that were added to the back end along with Nolan Kneen and Reece Harsch, who are both in their 19-year-old campaigns.
    Schuldhaus’s sentiments were shared by fellow Blades overagers in Dawson Davidson and Max Gerlach.
    Davidson, who is an offensive-defenceman, was acquired by the Blades on Jan. 8, 2018 in a trade with the Regina Pats. The Blades sent import defenceman Libor Hajek to the Pats in exchange for Davidson, centre Tristen Robins and a first round selection in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft.
    Davidson entered the WHL at the start of the 2014-15 campaign with the Kamloops Blazers and was dealt to the Pats partway through the 2016-17 season.
    Appearing in all of the Blades 68 regular season games in this past campaign, Davidson topped the team in scoring with 13 goals and 62 assists for 75 points to go along with a plus-27 rating. His goals, assists, points and plus-minus totals were all career highs.
One of Dawson Davidson’s supporters displays a sign at the SaskTel Centre.
    Davidson, who turned 21-years-old earlier this month, was pleased to help the Blades reach a new high, while ended his time in the league on a personal high.
    “It has been a lot of ups and downs,” said Davidson. “Obviously, I’ve been with three different teams.
    “I’ve kind of seen the ways of junior hockey, but I couldn’t be more excited to end it off with a great organization here in Saskatoon. I feel like I got a lot better as a player, and that is kudos to my teammates and to our amazing coaches here, who kind of let me blossom into the player that you know I always felt I could become.
Raiders D Brayden Pachal and Blades D Dawson Davidson shake hands.
    “We made strides this year. I think at the start of the year not many people thought we were going to do too much. I think they thought next year was kind of our year.”
    Davidson enjoyed seeing bigger crowds pack into the SaskTel Centre as the regular season drew to a close and the march into the playoffs went on. The Blades averaged 3,911 spectators over 34 regular season home dates and that average burst to an average of 7,428 spectators per game for the team’s five home playoff dates.
    During Game 6 on Sunday, Davidson made sure to take a moment to take in the sight of seeing 10,521 spectators packing into his team’s home rink.
    “It was unbelievable,” said Davidson. “The fans here, I can’t thank them enough.
    “It has been absolutely amazing. Throughout the season and especially in the playoffs here, we could feel the whole city come behind us there. To see that crowd tonight, it meant a lot to us.”
Max Gerlach jets into the offensive zone for the Blades.
    Gerlach entered the WHL at the start of the 2015-16 campaign with the Medicine Hat Tigers. The product of Flower Mound, Texas, was dealt to the Blades on Jan. 10, 2018 in exchange for right-winger Bryan Lockner, a first round selection in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft and a second round selection in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft.
    From that first season, Gerlach has scored 30-or-more goals in each of his four seasons in the WHL picking up the nickname “Texan Sniper” along the way.
    This past season, the sharpshooting right-winger, who turned 21-years-old earlier this month, appeared in all of the Blades 68 regular season games piling up career highs in goals (42), points (74) and plus-minus (plus-seven).
    He plans on spending some down time in Saskatoon before heading home and figuring out what his next step in hockey is.
    “I am just going to enjoy some time here with my friends,” said Gerlach, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 160 pounds. “I’ll probably stay about a week or so.
Max Gerlach had a career high 42 goals this season.
    “It is a long drive back to Dallas, so I have some time to think about it. I will kind of see what is going to go on there. Like I said, I made a tonne of new brothers in there.
    “I feel really lucky. I couldn’t be happier to end my career as a Blade.”
    Gerlach said you could feel there was a different culture on the team when Mitch Love was brought in as head coach and Ryan Marsh arrived as an associate coach before the current campaign began. The Texan was pleased the Blades brought back Ryan Keller as an assistant coach.
    The now graduating player believes the team is in a good place under the leadership of owner Mike Priestner and general manager Colin Priestner.
    “With the organization, I think the Blades kind of used to be a team that you knew you could come in and kind of push around,” said Gerlach. “We definitely changed that here.
    “We know we are a team that doesn’t mind getting physical. We are going to beat you off the puck. We’re going to make life tough on you.
Max Gerlach scored in bunches his entire WHL career.
    “I think the organization is in super good hands from all the way to the top from Mike and Colin and then all the way down to the players and coaching staff and everything. I think the Blades are in a really good spot for the future.”
    Love said losing out to the Raiders stings. 
    Still, he was proud of how far the overagers and the rest of the players have brought the Blades as an organization.
    “I said that to the guys also after the game,” said Love. “You’ve rejuvenated Blades hockey in the community.
    “I think it worked from a hockey, slash, fan, slash, business perspective to play the Raiders in the second round of playoffs. It was the perfect storm for everybody.
The Blades give a final salute to their faithful at the SaskTel Centre.
    “I think just hockey in this area for both organizations, and especially in this city, that was pretty impressive to see.”

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