Blades & Pats renew hostilities in WHL on Access action
Saskatoon Blades (13-16-2-1)
at Regina Pats (16-15-2-0)
Friday, December 15 – Brandt Centre – 7 p.m. (Central)
Channels: Access7 SD, Access 70 HD, WHL Live
For the third time in the 2017-18 Western Hockey League regular season, the Saskatoon Blades and Regina Pats meet, with their second of five clashes in WHL on Access action.
Since the teams last met Oct. 11, both have remained as close in the standings as they are geographically. Just five points separate the Blades, who sit sixth in the East Division, and the Pats, who are fourth.
It goes without saying two points would greatly aid the Blades, who seem to have found their rhythm in recent weeks with some big victories that have caused teams to take more note of them. In the past few weeks, the Blades have scored tight regulation victories against divisional opponents like the Moose Jaw Warriors and Brandon Wheat Kings, showing that while they may not be in a playoff spot at the moment, they are still a formidable challenge.
Cameron Hebig, who had 26 goals in 59 games last season, reached that same goal total in his 30th game Wednesday. In fact, Hebig is the lone Blades player on pace to crack 100 points this season and easily surpass both the 100 career WHL goals and 100 assists milestone. The team’s other strong offensive option is Braylon Shmyr, who has 37 points (14G-23A) in 32 games, including a game against the Wheat Kings, where he scored twice late to tie up and then win the game.
Their strong play has extended outside of the division as well. On Wednesday, the Blades had big nights from rookie Kirby Dach as well as Hebig to top the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Just 11 days ago, 16-year-old goaltender Nolan Maier stopped 48 shots for his first career WHL shutout over the Portland Winterhawks, the top team in the WHL at that moment. Since making his debut with the Blades, Maier has looked better and better, helping his team stay in tight games. There will undoubtedly be growing pains along the way, but for the moment the youngster is on the right path to success, something both he and the Blades are benefitting from.
It’s a small glimpse into what has been a steady growth for the Blades, who haven’t qualified for the playoffs in recent years, but have had seasons of 42, 56, and 65 points showing they’re on the right track. At their current rate this season, the Blades are on pace to play above that 65-point pace, but the question of whether it gets them into the post-season is still up in the air.
This Blades team has seemed to embrace that as a challenge this year though. Despite being below five-hundred, the Blades are a respectable 4-4-1-1 in their last 10 games against the East Division, which has presented a very credible case for being the toughest division in the entire Canadian Hockey League.
That’s a reality you don’t have to explain to the Pats twice, who are in the first of two wild card spots entering Friday’s play and sit 13 points back of the third place Wheat Kings. Things are even more complicated for the next few weeks with the possibility that they’ll lose one of their top forwards and defencemen in Sam Steel (Anaheim Ducks) and Josh Mahura (Anaheim Ducks) to Canada’s National Junior Team.
In the meantime, the club will continue to depend on other key cogs like the team’s leading scorer Matt Bradley, and import winger Emil Oksanen.
If the Pats are going to strike offensively, there’s a good bet it’ll come on their eighth-ranked power play, a situation the Blades and their 20th-ranked penalty kill will want to avoid. When the tables are turned, it’ll be the Pats who will want to also avoid going down a man as their penalty kill is ranked 21st in the league. The good news from the Pats’ position though is that they’ve allowed just four goals on the power play in the last 20 opportunities given up, which is certainly not the league-best figure, but better than where they’re at right now.
While players like Steel and Mahura will be missing, there are other contributors coming into their own for the Pats. 1999-born forward Jake Leschyshyn (Vegas Golden Knights) was enjoying a five-game point streak before the Pats were shutout Wednesday. though he has just eight goals on the season, three of those have stood up as game-winners for the Pats. Leschyshyn could have more magic up his sleeve this coming Friday.
A trio of Pats players in Bradley, Wyatt Sloboshan and Dawson Davidson will enter Friday’s matchup having played in all 33 of the Pats’ games this season. Davidson is enjoying a career year in his first full season with the Pats after coming to the Queen City in a trade with the Kamloops Blazers last season. In the absence of Mahura for the short term, he’ll be one of the blue liners counted upon to keep things in check on the backend. So far, he’s providing his fair share of the offensive contributions required, but on a team hovering around five-hundred, the question always remains as to what more can be done. He’s already tied his career-high with six goals this season, so anything more than that will be music to John Paddock’s ears.
Davidson’s contributions won’t just be felt this year, but should be felt even more after the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup, when he returns to lead a likely younger defensive core.
Catch all the action live from the Brandt Centre on Friday, December 15 (7:00 p.m. CST) in WHL on Access action!
It’s GAME DAY!
— Saskatoon Blades (@BladesHockey) December 15, 2017
Head coach: Dean Brockman
Leading scorers: C Cameron Hebig (26-20-46); LW Braylon Shmyr (14-23-37); D Libor Hajek (8-16-24)
Leading goaltender: Nolan Maier (13GP, 5-6-0-1, 3.72 GAA, .895 SV%)
Power play: 14th – 19.5 per cent
Penalty kill: 20th – 72.5 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: RW Caleb Fantillo (lower body 5-to-7 weeks); LW Gage Ramsay (lower body, day-to-day), G Ryan Kubic (lower body, day-to-day)
— Regina Pats (@WHLPats) December 15, 2017
Head coach: John Paddock
Leading scorers: C Matt Bradley (20-18-38); C Sam Steel (14-21-35); RW Emil Oksanen (12-18-30)
Leading goaltender: Tyler Brown (24 GP, 10-11-2-0, 3.32 GAA, .888 SV%)
Power play: Eighth – 24.1 per cent
Penalty kill: 21st – 70.9 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: C Sam Steel (Hockey Canada); D Josh Mahura (Hockey Canada)
Oct. 7 – Saskatoon 3 Regina 7
Oct. 11 – Saskatoon 6 Regina 4
Dec. 15 – Regina at Saskatoon*
Dec. 17 – Saskatoon at Regina*
Jan. 20 – Regina at Saskatoon
Jan. 24 – Saskatoon at Regina*
Feb. 11 – Regina at Saskatoon*
Feb. 23 – Regina at Saskatoon
* Indicates WHL on Access broadcast