Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Saskatoon Blades Preview

Memorial Cup Host: Saskatoon Blades : 44-22-2-4, 94 Pts 2nd in the Eastern Conference of the WHL.

-Regular Season:

Josh Nicholls

Darren Dietz
-It was an extremeny tumultuous season for Lorne Molleken and the Blades as they had a horrendous start to the season and then reeled off 18 wins in a row towards the end of the season. The Blades also stripped the captainship of 19 year old Duncan Siemens and pinned it on 20 year old newcomer Brenden Walker. They made 16 trades throughout the season, as they seemed to never be satisfied with the makeup of the team. Though, when you can add 20 year old proven scorers like Michael Ferland and Brenden Walker from Brandon, you have to do it. The other part of their 3 20 year old top line: Josh Nicholls lead the team in regular season goal scoring with 47 goals and with 85 total points he tied Czech native Matej Stransky for the team lead. Walker had 76 pts and former Kelowna Rocket Shane McColgan had 66. Darren Dietz finished behind Troy Rutkowski for 3rd in WHL scoring for Defensemen with 58 points. Andrey Makarov had another solid year in net for the Blades, posting a 2.62 GAA and a .919 Save %.
Andrey Makarov

How They Got Here: -Well they were chosen as hosts and that is the only reason their season is still going. They made a late run for second place in the Eastern Conference and got to face off against lowly Medicine Hat in the first round. Former Winterhawk Cam Lanigan proved to be too much for th Blades as they were swept in 4 games. Nicholls, Stransky and Walker were all held without a goal. This early loss means that Saskatoon went 51 days without playing a game.

Matej Stransky
NHL Drafted or Owned:
-Forward-(20)Josh Nicholls-2010-Toronto-7th Round
-Forward-(19)Matej Stransky-2011-Dallas-6th Round
-Forward-(19)Shane McColgan-2011-N.Y. Rangers-5th Round
-Forward-(20)Michael Ferland-2010-Calgary-5th Round
-Forward-(19)Lukas Sutter-2012-Winnipeg-2nd Round
-Defenseman-(19)Darren Dietz-2011-Montreal-5th Round
-Defenseman-(19)Duncan Siemens-2011-Colrado-1st Round
-Defenseman-(19)Dalton Thrower-2012-Montreal-2nd Round
-Goalie-(19)Andrey Makarov-2012-Buffalo-Signed as a Free Agent

Duncan Siemens
So 9 total NHL owned prospects is a solid bunch, though they traded for 2 of them at the start or during the regular season.

History at the Memorial Cup:
-They were founded in 1964 and moved to the WHL in 1966, when it was founded. These mainstays are the only original WHL team, still in the same city.  Even though they have been in existence in the WHL for 46 years, they have never won the WHL title. Their only other trip to the Memorial Cup, was as hosts in 1989. they were the team that lost in over-time in the Memorial Cup final to the surviviors of the bus crash 2 years previous: the Swift Current Broncos. It is surpirsing that Saskatoon has never won a WHL title, even though legends such as: Wendel Clark, Bernie Federko and Brian Skrudland suited up for them.

Can Makarov Steal the Tournament?
-Andrey Makarov is noted for making otherworldly performances in short tournaments, while playing for Russia in the last 2 world juniors. Makarov nearly singlehandedly carried Russia to the Gold Medal game in 2012, before Sweden proved to be too much. He is certainly capable of standing on his head the rest of the way and will probably need to, should Saskatoon reach the promised land and hoist their first cup. He played great in their first game loss to London and even ebtter, when they shocked Halifax in their second game. However, with the amount of puck possession, Portland is sure to have, they will need Makarov to be just as good, if not better, in order to win and clinch a spot in the final.

Does This Team Know How to Win?
-This is a fair question to ask, as the Blades have lost 12 straight WHL playoff games. They were swept by a poor Medicine Hat squad this year, were swept by a much stronger Tiger's team last year and after advancing to the 2nd round in 2011, were ousted by Kootenay in 4 straight, despite owning the best regualr season record and the #1 seed. It really seems that once things start going sideways for the Blades, they tend to over-react and end up getting beaten quite easily, even by teams they are more talented then. There is something to be said about a winning culture and the franchise that has never won a WHL title, cannot really have one can they. However, this year they brought in many other players that have playoff experience. McColgan with Kelowna and Ferland and Walker played in the Memorial cup 2 years ago, so maybe they can help bring this team somewhere it has never been.

All Three 20 Year Olds on the Same Line?
-Talk about throwing all your experience onto one line. That being said, this line was great in the first game against London, showing the experience and poise needed to calm a team after 51 days of pent up energy. Walker, Ferland and Nicholls, bring a lot of size and experience at you and hopefully the Hawks defense can contend with this different speed pitch.

Random Notes:
-The one time Portland played Saskatoon this year, was on their Eastern swing, when they shut them out 4-0 in the very same building they will be playing in tonight.
-Mac Carruth needs to play like he did vs. London on Monday and Portland should be alright, that being said, Makarov is the type ogf Goalie the Hawks have strugglled with at times. This tournament hasn't had a really low scoring game yet, so I'd look for that as the 2 solid defenses tighten up.

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