They’ve been playing in the shadow of the WHL’s first place Prince Albert Raiders in the league’s East Division, but the Saskatoon Blades have emerged as one of the hottest teams in the circuit as of late. Featuring the talents of top 2019 NHL Draft prospect Kirby Dach, the Blades are winners of seven straight and inching closer to securing their first trip to the WHL Playoffs since they hosted the Memorial Cup in 2013.
Saskatoon wrapped up a successful week on the road Saturday night, scoring at least five goals in wins over Medicine Hat, Kootenay and Lethbridge as overage shooter Max Gerlach (36-28–64) continued a 14-game point streak.
After several years of rebuilding, the Blades have become believers as the playoffs are within reach. They return to the Kia CHL Top 10 Rankings for the first time since early October.
“It’s in the back of everybody’s minds – that there’s an opportunity to finally break the playoff hex in Saskatoon,” Blades rookie head coach Mitch Love told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix’s Kevin Mitchell.
“It’s an exciting time for the franchise; it’s an exciting time for the city of Saskatoon, to have an opportunity to hopefully see some extra hockey in March and April, and hopefully longer than that. I’m proud of the strides we’ve made as a group, but there’s still a lot of hockey to be played.”
A candidate for the Bill Hunter Trophy as WHL Defenceman of the Year, Dawson Davidson leads the team as well as all WHL blueliners in scoring with 66 points (10G-56A) as he approaches the 300-game milestone on his WHL career. Gerlach paces the Blades with 36 goals while the man everyone wants to see, 18-year-old Kirby Dach, has 60 points (22G-38A) over 52 contests.
“[Dach] is a high-end skill player that came out of the gate real strong,” NHL Central Scouting’s John Williams said of the 6-foot-3 centre. “He’s very smart on both sides of the puck and is more of a playmaker but showing he can score.”
While Saskatoon’s approach at the draft table has built the future of the team around Dach, captain Chase Wouters who has 35 points (14G-21A), 18-year-old draft eligible netminder Nolan Maier and 2017 first-round picks Kyle Crnkovic and Aidan De La Gorgendiere. Blades’ general manager Colin Priestner has also made some significant mid-season additions. Forwards Gary Haden and Ryan Hughes have joined defenceman Nolan Kneen in prominent positions on the team’s depth chart.
Having earned 21 of their 37 wins this season away from home, the Blades will play seven of their remaining 10 games at the SaskTel Centre as they own a 37-13-8-0 record for second place in the East Division.
“Our guys have embraced the challenges and the process of coming to the rink and putting ourselves in this position,” continued head coach Love, who was hired by the team in June. “That was the goal at the beginning of the year. There’s lots of hockey to still be played, and we’re just excited the guys are having fun coming to the rink and being successful. We have to keep on top of that.”
The Blades go back to work on Friday night in Brandon against the Wheat Kings before returning home to take on the Kootenay ICE on Saturday.
It’s been a long road back for the Blades, a team that has taken small steps with increasing win totals over each of the past five seasons. The franchise has never won a WHL Championship in its 52-year existence, a bit of history this determined group is looking to conquer in the weeks and months to come.
The KIA CHL Top 10 Spotlight takes a closer look at one team from the weekly KIA CHL Top 10 Rankings.
Past KIA CHL Top 10 Spotlight editions:
Sept. 26, 2018 – Halifax Mooseheads
Oct. 4, 2018 – London Knights
Oct. 11, 2018 – Victoria Royals
Oct. 18, 2018 – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Oct. 25, 2018 – Prince Albert Raiders
Nov. 1, 2018 – Ottawa 67’s
Nov. 8, 2018 – Moncton Wildcats
Nov. 15, 2018 – Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Nov. 22, 2018 – Red Deer Rebels
Nov. 29, 2018 – Drummondville Voltigeurs
Dec. 6, 2018 – Vancouver Giants
Dec. 12, 2018 – Everett Silvertips
Dec. 20, 2018 – Niagara IceDogs
Jan. 3, 2019 – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Jan. 10, 2019 – Saginaw Spirit
Jan. 17, 2019 – Portland Winterhawks
Jan. 25, 2019 – Rimouski Océanic
Jan. 31, 2019 – Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Feb. 6, 2019 – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Feb. 13, 2019 – Ottawa 67’s