Thursday, December 30, 2010

Action continues at World Under 17 Challenge

4 more games were played today in Manitoba at the World Under 17 Challenge.

They ended up like this:

Team USA 4 - Team Germany 1

Team Quebec 6 - Team Finland 4

Team Slovakie O - Team Ontario 5

Team Pacific 3 - Team Czech 2


Team Pacific moved to 2-0 at the event after beating Team West yesterday. Ryan Olsen of the Blades had an assist in the game. Levi Bews was held scoreless.

Blades earn sweep of home and home with Raiders

The Saskatoon Blades weren't going to let this lead slip away.

24 hours after blowing a 3 goal lead in Prince Albert (and still winning 4-3) the Blades had a chance to make sure that didn't happen again.

They came out red hot to start the game, scoring 4 first period goals. The team was led mainly by their second line of Darian Dziurzynski, Brent Benson and Jake Trask. The goals in the period were scored by Benson, Josh Nicholls and a pair from Dziurzynski.

The Blades did a great job of keeping the Raiders at bay in the second, even though they did score late in the frame. Brandon Herrod scored for the Raiders.

In the third period Saskatoon finished off the win and made it 5-1 as Stefan Elliott got his 15th of the season.

5-1 was the final score.

Adam Morrison was a big story in goal for the Blades. The 19 year old made 27 saves in a winning cause.

Saskatoon was 2 for 7 on the PP, PA was 0 for 3.

The Blades face a very stiff contest next time up as they host the Red Deer Rebels on Saturday night. That game goes at 7:05.

Blades hold on for a wild win

It looked and felt like a game that was safely in the bag.

Oh how quickly things changed.

Last night in Prince Albert the Blades led the Raiders 3-0 after 40 minutes. Things were going along smoothly for them. They had goals from Jake Trask, Josh Nicholls and Chris Collins and had 28 saves from Steven Stanford up until that point.

But that's when the Raiders came out aggressive and stole back the momentum.

Justin Maylan scored on the powerplay only 1:57 into the third and that started the rally.

Andrew Herle got his 4th of the season a mere 1:25 later off a scrambled play where Steven Stanford was caught out of position on a botched 2 on 1.

The comeback would be made complete at 6:09 of the third as Brandon Herrod got his 16th of the season. 7 of those have come against the Blades in 5 games.

That's it. The game was tied 3-3.

It was adversity for the Blades and once again, they faced it and passed the test with flying colors.

Brent Benson cut out from the corner and got a pass from Chris Collins from behind the net and Benson slid the puck past Jamie Tucker to restore the lead for the Blades. The goal came at 8:52 and put Saskatoon back up 4-3.

That was all they would need as Steven Stanford shut the door the rest of the way to earn win #18 of the year. He made 39 saves. Tucker made 31 saves in the loss for PA.

The Raiders went 1 for 4 on the PP, with Saskatoon being held scoreless at 0 for 3.

Redemption will surely be on the mind of the Raiders tonight as the teams finish off the home and home in Saskatoon. Puck drop goes at 7:05.

Kick off to the action at the Under 17's

Yesterday was the first set of games at the World Under 17 Challenge in Manitoba.

The 4 games went as follows:

Team Atlantic 3 - Team Quebec 9

Team Finland 2 - Team USA 5

Team Czech 1 - Team USA 7

Team West 2 - Team Pacific 5

I wanted to focus mainly on Team West vs. Team Pacific. The game was tied 1-1 after 40 minutes, as the 3rd period ended up being a wild one as 5 goals were scored.

Team West got their 2 goals from Colton Heffley and Brendan Harms. Team Pacific got their 5 goals from Griffin Reinhart, Mike Winther, Robert Trzonkowski, Hunter Shinkaruk and Brandon Magee.

3 members of the Saskatoon Blades organization played in the game. Brett Stovin was pointless for Team West as was Ryan Olsen for Team Pacific. Levi Bews had an assist for Team Pacific.

There are 4 more games at the tournament today:

Team USA vs. Team Germany

Team Pacific vs. Team Czech

Team Quebec vs. Team Finland

Team Slovakia vs. Team Ontario

Team Canada dumps Norway easily

It wasn't much of a test for Canada as they moved to 3-0 at the World Juniors last night.

They dumped Norway 10-1.

The team was led by Saskatoon-native Brayden Schenn. He followed up his 5 point performance with another. He had 4 goals and an assist.

The other Canadian goals came from Casey Cizikas, Marcus Foligno, Louis Leblanc, Sean Couturier and two from Erik Gudbranson.

Rasmus Juell had the only goal for Norway.

Mark Visentin played goal for Canada this game in place of Olivier Roy. He made 31 saves in the win.

Canada will now play Sweden on Friday.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blades off to Prince Albert

The Saskatoon Blades have their first chance to get back in the win column tonight following the Christmas break.

It's the first game of a home and home between the two teams as well. They will meet again tomorrow night at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon.

Both teams had wins going into the big holiday break, so it will be interesting to see if either team can carry that momentum after such a long break. The turkey-legs could be out in the first 20 minutes for sure.

Here are my keys to the game:

For Prince Albert:

- Lean on Jonathan Parker offensively. He was the WHL and CHL player of the week heading into Christmas. They need a big performance from him tonight.

- Establish a hard forecheck. They are known for it, especially at home. Make the Blades turn the puck over.

For Saskatoon:

- Have a quick start. Each line needs to get their legs under them as they will all get a chance early in the game to get a feel for the ice. They need to be able to generate something early in the game.

- Win a special teams battle. The Raiders have struggled on both the PP and PK this year. Saskatoon needs to take advantage of that.

It does sound like Saskatoon will be even further shorthanded tonight with the loss of Darren Deitz to an appendix removal. Looks like 5 defenders will be all the Blades will have. And as mentioned they are missing Levi Bews, Ryan Olsen and Curtis Hamilton. All three are away at international tournaments. Two youngsters will draw in tonight. 15 year old Tim McGauley and 16 year old Hudson Morrison.

The game goes at 700 from Prince Albert. You can catch it live on 92.9 The Bull starting with the pregame show at 6:30.

Team Canada Wins, A Big WHL Trade and U17's start tonight

Team Canada's entry into the World Junior Championships moved to 2-0 yesterday with a 7-2 victory over the Czech Republic.

Once again Canada got off to a slow start, giving up a goal only 49 seconds in. Moose Jaw's Tony Honejsek sniped a low shot to the left side of Canada's Olivier Roy.

But Canada took over the game from there. In fact, they scored the next 7 goals.

They came from Brayden Schenn, Jayden Schwartz, Louis Leblanc, Ryan Ellis, Cody Eakin, Tyson Barrie and Jared Cowen. The Czechs scored with just under 4 minutes left in the game as well, off a goal from Jakub Jerabek.

4 of Canada's goals came with the powerplay, with 1 more coming shorthanded.

Olivier Roy made 17 saves and responded from another shaky start in the game. Filip Novotny had 32 saves in a losing effort.

One big storyline in the game was a high hit by Zach Kassian on Petr Senkerik. It was called a hit to the head. The penalty in international rules comes with a 5 minute major and a game misconduct. Kassian will also miss the next two games for Canada after the IIHF just handed down a 2 game suspension. Senkerik was taken off on a stretcher after being knocked out, and is reportedly doing ok now.

It was funny to see TSN's commentators and panel defend the hit, saying that Kassian clearly hit Senkerik to the chest. I didn't see it like that at all. To me, it was pretty obvious that Kassian's shoulder connected to the chin/jaw of Senkerik. Bob MacKenzie of TSN also changed his tune after seeing the hit a few more times, saying there was clearly a connection on Senkerik's chin. I just wish the broadcasting crew wouldn't always have to take the Canadian's side on every issue in these games.

Anyways, Canada is back at it tonight, without Kassian. They take on Norway tonight at 6:30.

==================================================================================

Speaking of Team Canada, the World Under 17 Challenge starts tonight from Winnipeg/Portage La Prairie, Manitoba.

5 games go today/tonight:

Team Atlantic vs. Team Quebec
Team Finland vs. Team USA
Team Czech vs. Team Ontario
Team West vs. Team Pacific

That last game features the two teams I will be following the most closely. Team Pacific features two members of the Saskatoon Blades in Levi Bews and Ryan Olsen. Team West features another member of the Blades organization in Brett Stovin.

It should be interesting to see who comes out on top this time around. Last year, Team USA won gold, downing Team Ontario. Don't be shocked if we see a similar situation this year.

Good luck to all those participants.

==================================================================================

There was another big trade in the WHL yesterday. Earlier this month there was talk that the Carter Ashton-to-Tri City deal might have "set the market" for the WHL trade deadline. I think it's safe to say that is now the truth.

Yesterday Craig Cunningham was traded from Vancouver the Portland. Yes, Portland.

In return, the Giants receive forwards Spencer Bennett, 20, and Teal Burns, 18, and two draft picks — a first-rounder in 2011 and a second-rounder in 2012. Portland also gets a 6th round pick along with Cunningham.

He is a great player, maybe not a big name like Ashton, but he should fit in nicely to the Winterhawks. But I still think a price like that may be too high for a Blades team pondering a big acquisition. Don't get me wrong, I still think some minor tinkering is in order for the Blades, but I would not expect a major splash come the January 10th trade deadline.

Speaking of the Blades, the team heads to Prince Albert tonight for their first game after the Christmas break. I will try and get a brief game preview up before catching the bus later this afternoon.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Former Blade Curt Gogol's big knockout

Came across this just now. What a big knockout by Gogol. Obviously the other guy was surprised Gogol was a lefty, but man, he really should've tried to defend himself.

Blades call up 2 players

The Saskatoon Blades made a much-expected roster move today calling up two players to fill in for players away at international tournaments.

15 year old Tim McGauley and 16 year old Hudson Morrison are now with the team.

The move was made necessary because Curtis Hamilton is still away at the World Junior Hockey Championships and Levi Bews and Ryan Olsen are away at the World Under 17 Championships in Manitoba.

McGauley was the Blades first round pick in the bantam draft of 2010. He has been playing with the Regina Pat Canadians Midget AAA team this year. So far in 28 games he has 6 goals and 6 assists.

Morrison was a 9th round bantam pick in 2009. He has been playing this year with the Southwest Cougars of the Manaitoba Midget AAA Hockey League. In 23 games he has 15 goals and 7 assists.

The two will be in the lineup tomorrow night as the Team Heads to Prince Albert to take on the Raiders.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Canada doubles up Russia

Canada opened the World Junior tournament in Buffalo, NY on the right foot this afternoon.

They beat the Russians 6-3.

The game was even after 20 minutes. Russia scored first as Maxim Kitsyn got them on the board. Marcus Foligno tied the game with just over 2 minutes left in the first period.

The teams traded goals back and forth in the second. Ryan Ellis scored for Canada at 10:35. The Russians came back to tie it just over a minute later as Nikita Dvurechensky scored. Erik Gudbranson scored for Canada at 15:15 to make the game 3-2, but the Russians had another quick answer. Daniil Sobchenko tied with just over 3 minutes left in the second period as the game was even again, this time after 40 minutes.

The third is where Canada took control. Ryan Johansen scored at 3:46, finishing off a weird play that featured a bouncing puck and a soccer kick from a Russian defender. Brayden Schenn would make it 5-3 a couple minutes later. Curtis Hamilton iced the game in the final minute as the final was 6-3.

Canada had a big lead in shots at 42-27. Olivier Roy got the start in goal, despite some major competition with Mark Visentin. The players of the game for each team were Ryan Ellis for Canada and Vladimir Tarasenko for Russia.

Next up, a game against the Czech Republic on Tuesday at 3PM SK time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Team Canada downs Finland in final tune-up

Canada improved to 3-0 in pre-tournament action at the World Junior Hockey Championships tonight with a 5-2 win over Finland.

Canada trailed 1-0 after one period off a goal from Henri Tuominen.

Canada scored twice in the 2nd off goals from a pair of Ryan's, Johansen and Ellis. The score would be square after 40 though as Erik Haula tied things up at 15:20 of the 2nd period.

Three more goals in the third would ice it. Those came from Sean Couturier, Quinton Howden and Ryan Johansen, again.

The Canadian's got some life from a new line combination down the stretch in the game. Curtis Hamilton was moved onto a line with Sean Couturier and Quinton Howden. They were the ones who gave the Canadians the most life in the third.

The shots ended up being 37-20 for Canada.

Mark Visentin made 18 saves for the win. It should add more fuel to the fire in regards to who will start in goal in the tournament opener against Russia on boxing day. Both Visentin and Olivier Roy have had their chance, and both have played solid but not spectacular.

Once again Canada's opposing goalies split time. Joni Ortio played the first 40, with Sami Aittokallio playing the third period.

As I mentioned, Canada officially starts the tournament on the 26th against the Russians. Check it out on TSN.

Canadian Juniors Take on Finland

Canada's junior squad has their 3rd pre-tournament game tonight.

After handling the Swiss 8-0 and Sweden 4-1, it should be another interesting test for Canada.

The biggest storyline for the Canadian squad is still the battle between the pipes. As I type this, it's still not known if Olivier Roy or Mark Visentin will start in the game. Visentin shutout the Swiss, and looked ok doing so. He definitely wasn't spectacular. Roy was beaten once by Sweden. But he was tested far more, and responded well.

In my mind, Roy has the edge right now.

The Finns are known for their gritty and very "North American" style of play so they should bring a new challenge to the table. Although it does sound like Finland will be missing arguably their top player, Teemu Pulkkinen. It sounds like he is sick and won't be playing tonight.

High pick from last year Mikael Granlund is also hurt and won't be participating. He suffered a concussion this year in the Finnish Elite league and was supposed to be back in early December. That still has not happened.

After doing some investigating online, it sounds like these will be the lines for the Finns:

FORWARDS

Iiro Pakarinen - Erik Haula - Mika Partanen
Toni Rajala - Joonas Nättinen - Joel Armia
Joonas Donskoi - Henri Tuominen - Julius Junttila
Teemu Tallberg - Valtteri Virkkunen - Jaakko Turtiainen

13th forward: Miikka Salomäki

DEFENSE:

Sami Vatanen - Jyrki Jokipakka
Rasmus Rissanen - Nico Manelius
Tommi Kivistö - Jesse Virtanen
Olli Määttä - Jani Hakanpää

GOALIES

Joni Ortio
Sami Aittokallio


Despite a lack of Pulkkinen, their are still a number of players to watch for the Finns.

The one I can't wait to see is Joel Armia. He has been lighting up the Finnish league as a 17 year old this year and is expected by many to be a first round pick in the June NHL entry draft. So far in 30 games this year he has 12 goals for Ässät. He's big at 6'3 and is a right handed shot on the wing. He's got an intriguing package as a player and skates well for such a big guy. He should be fun to watch in this physical contest.

There are three other NHL picks up front for Finland that have some skill: Joonas Donskoi (FLA), Joonas Nattinen (MTL) and Toni Rajala (EDM).


On defense, the team is lead by Sami Vatanen. He's a Ducks prospect. He's a bit undersized but does a whole ton of things well. He's physical and is a great offensive defenseman. Some say he might be one of the top 2-3 defenseman in this entire tournament.


Goalie Joni Ortio (CGY) is the head man in goal. He's known for being very mentally tough and if the Finns want to medal in this tournament, this guy is going to have to be the story for this team. If he falters, Avs prospect Sami Aittokallio will have a chance to step in.


As far as Canada's lines go, none have been posted that I have seen. Things were getting mixed around pretty good last game, so we can expect them to have a different look to begin this game.

It goes at 6:30 SK time on TSN2.

Free WHL games online over the holidays

The WHL has offered a new promo for 3 days over the holidays. Fans can watch games free online for the 28th, 29th and 30th of December.

That means fans will have access to 20 games in total over the course of 3 nights.

You can visit this webpage for more details, and to sign up.

http://www.whl.ca/article/free-whl-webcast-offer-for-the-holidays

More on Siemens going to Top Prospects game

Credit goes to Cory Wolfe at the Star Phoenix:

http://www.thestarphoenix.com/sports/Blades+Siemens+headed+Prospects/4017461/story.html

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Duncan Siemens named to top prospects game

Today the home hardware CHL top prospects rosters were announced, and one Saskatoon Blade was chosen for the game.

Defenseman Duncan Siemens was among the 40 players named to the game that will take place January 18th and 19th in Toronto. The 2 day event will also feature a skills competition.

The teams are split up into Team Orr (as in Bobby) and Team Cherry (as in Don). Here they are:

TEAM CHERRY

GOALTENDERS -- Christopher Gibson, Chicoutimi (QMJHL), David Honzik, Victoriaville (QMJHL).

DEFENSEMEN -- Myles Bell, Regina (WHL), Scott Harrington, London (OHL), Joe Morrow, Portland (WHL), Ryan Murphy, Kitchener (OHL), Duncan Siemens, Saskatoon (WHL), Tyler Wotherspoon, Portland (WHL).

FORWARDS -- Sean Couturier, Drummondville (QMJHL), Phillip Danault, Victoriaville (QMJHL), Nicklas Jensen, Oshawa (OHL), Tomas Jurco, Saint John (QMJHL), Gabriel Landeskog, Kitchener (OHL), Mark McNeill, Prince Albert (WHL), Matthew Puempel, Peterborough (OHL), Rickard Rakell, Plymouth (OHL), Ty Rattie, Portland (WHL), Tobias Rieder, Kitchener (OHL), Mark Scheifele, Barrie (OHL), Ryan Strome, Niagara (OHL).

TEAM ORR
GOALTENDERS -- Jordan Binnington, Owen Sound (OHL), Liam Liston, Brandon (WHL).

DEFENSEMEN -- Nathan Beaulieu, Saint John (QMJHL), Dougie Hamilton, Niagara (OHL), David Musil, Vancouver (WHL), Xavier Ouellet, Montreal (QMJHL), Stuart Percy, Mississauga St. Michael's (OHL), Reece Scarlett, Swift Current (WHL).

FORWARDS -- Sven Bartschi, Portland (WHL), Daniel Catenacci, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John (QMJHL), Colin Jacobs, Seattle (WHL), Boone Jenner, Oshawa (OHL), Lucas Lessio, Oshawa (OHL), Shane McColgan, Kelowna (WHL), Vladislav Namestnikov, London (OHL), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Red Deer (WHL), Zack Phillips, Saint John (QMJHL), Brandon Saad, Saginaw (OHL), Vincent Trocheck, Saginaw (OHL).

For more information you can visit:

http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=547077http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=547077

Looking at the Blades schedule, Siemens shouldn't miss any games in order to take part.

Congratulations to him, and all the prospects named to the great event.

Team Canada handles Sweden 4-1

4 more goals for Team Canada, and 4 more goal scorers.

For a team that was supposed to be "offensively challenged", they sure are having lots of success spreading the offense around through 2 games in the tournament.

The goals came from Zack Kassian and WHLers Brayden Schenn, Ryan Johansen and Cody Eakin.

Through the first two games Canada has scored 12 goals, coming from 12 different skaters.

Max Friberg scored the lone goal for Team Sweden.

Penalties were the story in the game as the Swedes were on a constant parade to the box. You can see why many fans from countries besides Canada get upset at the officiating in this tournament. It was pretty obvious that many in the calls in the game against the Swedes were not actual penalties, and they surely weren't calling Canada for similar infractions.

As a fan of Canada, that's a good thing (I guess), but as a hockey fan it was pretty sad to see.

But don't get me wrong, Sweden were pretty careless and reckless and deserved a large chunk of time in the box.

Anyways, Canada never really took true advantage of the man advantage, going only 1 for 8. Despite all the penalties the Swedes actually outshot Canada 30-29.

Oilers prospect Olivier Roy made 29 saves in the win. Sens prospect Robin Lehner started for Sweden, surrendering 2 goals through 40 minutes. Thrashers prospect Fredrik Petterson Wentzel played the 3rd period, giving up 2 goals.

The lines were interesting to watch as it was obvious midway through the game that several key players for Canada were not seeing a regular shift. Up front Brett Connolly didn't appear to play very much as the WHL Line of Connolly, Ryan Johansen and Cody Eakin was split up. On the blueline, it didn't seem as if Simon Depres or Erik Gudbranson played all that much.

Those developments will be interesting to follow as Dave Cameron still has alot of work to do to find the proper combinations on this team.

Next up for Canada, a game against Finland on Thursday night.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Team Canada takes on Sweden tonight

After last night's whipping of the Swiss, Canada's entry at the World Junior's faces a stiffer test against Sweden tonight.

Goaltender Olivier Roy will get the start tonight after Mark Visentin earned the shutout last night in the 8-0 romp.

It will be interesting to watch what coach Dave Cameron does with the lines for the team tonight. Down the stretch in the game last night he did some mixing and matching. The lines last night were as follows:

FORWARDS:

Schwartz - Schenn - Leblanc
Kassian - Couturier - Foligno
Eakin - Johansen - Connolly
Howden - Cizikas - Ashton/Hamilton

DEFENCE:

Olsen-Ellis
Cowen-de Haan
Després-Gudbranson
Barrie


Team Sweden is also going to be very fun to watch. They have a ton of talent and many players who have been drafted into the NHL. The team also features two potential top 5 picks in the upcoming 2011 NHL entry draft. Defenseman Adam Larsson is in talks to potentially go 1st overall. Winger Gabriel Landeskog is a gritty forward with great hands, in a Mike Richards mold. He is also expected to be a top 5 pick in the draft.

Another couple of players to watch are forward Calle Jarnkrok (DET pick) and goalie Robin Lehner (Ott pick).

For a complete preview of Team Sweden, check this out. It's a good read:

http://www.puckworlds.com/2010/12/21/1888734/u20-world-junior-championships-preview-team-sweden

The game goes tonight on TSN, starting at 6:30 SK time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Canada handles the Swiss easily

It was the first test for Team Canada at the World Juniors tonight.

It actually turned out to be not much of a test at all.

The sellout crowd in Oshawa watched the Canadian squad handle Team Switzerland 8-0. The goals came from 8 different players.

It started early for Canada with Marcus Foligno, Jaden Schwartz and Casey Cizikas all scoring in the first 4:51 of the hockey game. That would also be the final score after 20 minutes of play.

Team Canada added 4 more goals in the 2nd period. Those goals came from Tyson Barrie, Louis Leblanc, Sean Couturier and Calvin de Haan.

Carter Ashton would score the lone 3rd period goal for Canada. Lukas Meili was the goaltender for the third period and played quite well. Benjamin Conz was the goalie for the first 40 minutes, and was not very sharp after being the tournament's top goalie last year.

The Canadians will face a much stiffer test tomorrow night. They play Team Sweden in a pre-tournament game from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. That game is set to start at 6pm SK time.

Ellis named captain of Canada, team plays tonight

As many expected, defenseman Ryan Ellis has been named as the captain of the Canadian World Junior squad.

It's not overly surprising as he is part of leadership group of 4 returning players from the Silver-winning (Gold-losing) squad of last year.

WHLers Brayden Schenn and Jared Cowen will serve as alternate captains, along with Islanders prospect, and OHLer Calvin de Haan.

The team hits the ice for it's first pre-tournament game tonight against the Nino-led Swiss team. It should be a fun game to watch.

According to a story on TSN, 18 year old goalie Mark Visentin will get the start in goal for Team Canada. Here are the other projected lines for the game, according to TSN.

FORWARDS:

Schwartz - Schenn - Leblanc
Kassian - Couturier - Foligno
Eakin - Johansen - Connolly
Howden - Cizikas - Ashton/Hamilton

DEFENCE:

Olsen-Ellis
Cowen-de Haan
Després-Gudbranson
Barrie

According to coach Dave Cameron, EVERY single skater on the roster will have a chance to play in the game. That should be good for all involved. It will give the coaches a chance to see which combos fit and to try to determine who will sit in future games.

Tonight's game goes on TSN2, starting at 6pm SK time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blades enter Christmas break with two straight wins

The Saskatoon Blades are entering the Christmas break on a high. The team followed up the win last night against Swift Current with another solid performance at CUC against Edmonton.

The Blades downed the Oil Kings 4-2.

The goal scorers for the Blades were Jake Trask, Stefan Elliott and Brent Benson with a pair. Edmonton got their goals from Saskatoon-product Dylan Wruck and Jordan Hickmott.

The goal for Elliott turned out to be the game winner. Out of his 14 goals on the season, 8 have been game winners. It also extended his point streak to 9 games.

Steven Stanford started in goal for the Blades, making 30 saves for the win. 17 year old Laurent Brossoit made 29 saves in the loss for Edmonton.

The Blades were 0 for 2 on the PP, with Edmonton going 0 for 3.

I was very impressed with several of the Oil Kings, as I have had this game circled on my calendar for quite some time.

Michael St. Croix was a player I couldn't wait to watch. He was pretty solid in tonight's game. He has a great set of hands and very good vision. The 17 year old is expected to be a first round pick in June in the NHL draft, and it's pretty clear why. A very talented player. He was battling the flu tonight according to his coaches, but his performance was pretty solid despite that.

Another forward that I liked was Travis Ewanyk. The gritty forward doesn't do much in the way of scoring, but he fills the agitator role pretty well for Edmonton. Some team in the middle rounds of the NHL draft is going to get a solid player in Ewanyk.

The blueline is where the most of the talent is on this team.

It was my first chance to see Mark Pysyk live. The defenseman and captain of the Oil Kings is a solid 2 way player. He's a smooth skater and has a quick stick on the defensive end. It's pretty clear why he was a first round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2010 NHL draft.

Griffin Reinhart was another guy I couldn't wait to watch. He is part of the group of WHL defenders that are set to be drafted in the 2012 Entry Draft. That group includes Morgan Rielly (MJ), Derrick Pouliot (Por), Ryan Murray (Evt), Matt Dumba (RD), Reid Gow (Spk) and Dalton Thrower (SK) among others. A very impressive group. Reinhart was all he was billed as. The guy is huge at 6'4, but he skates like the wind. He plays physical. He uses his reach on the defensive end. And he has some solid offensive skill that has translated into 16 points in 32 games so far this year.

The player I might have been the most impressed with was Keegan Lowe. The kid obviously has some good bloodlines as he is the son of former NHLer Kevin Lowe, who is still the President of Hockey Operations for the Oilers. Keegan plays a very solid two way game. At 6'1 he has solid size. He was very responsible defensively in the game, while showing he can make a good strong first pass. He also plays with a really tough edge to his game, getting in a first period fight with Lukas Sutter in the game tonight. The 17 year old is also +7 on the year, near the top of the Oil Kings team.

In goal I was hoping Laurent Brossoit would get the start, as he is one of the highest ranked goaltenders in the WHL for the June NHL draft. I got my wish as he got the call from his coaches. Despite giving up 4 goals I liked what I saw. He has the one thing you can't teach and that's size. At 6'3 he fits the bill for what today's NHL goalies need to be. I liked his glove hand especially, even though he was beat high glove side on atleast one shot from Stefan Elliott. His lateral mobility was pretty solid for a guy his size too. His rebound control was a bit shaky as he left a few nasty rebounds lying around the front of the net, but that's pretty common with goalies his size and his age.

Getting back to the Blades, the team now has 11 days off before their next game. That game will go on the 29th in Prince Albert. The following night the team is back at home against those same Raiders.

I will be blogging while the team is on break. I will be following the World Juniors as close as possible, as well as staying up to date on any WHL news.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Blades entertain the Oil Kings

Two red hot teams meet at CUC tonight as both the Edmonton Oil Kings and Saskatoon Blades have 8 wins in their last 10 games.

The Oil Kings are coming off a loss last night though as they were shutout at home by the Chilliwack Bruins, despite 42 shots on goal. This team has the offense to do some damage as they have 27 goals for in their last 5 games alone (including the shutout). An impressive feat that is.

The Blades are coming off the 3-1 win last night against the Swift Current Broncos. The team played a full 60 minutes against an undermanned Broncos team, and got the results to show for it.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out as tonight is the last set of games before teams break for the holidays.

Here are my keys to tonight's hockey game:

For Edmonton

- Michael St. Croix needs to keep it up. The 17 year old has 15 points in 7 games in December. He needs to lead his team offensively tonight. He is expected to be a first round pick in this coming NHL entry draft.

- Get an early goal. This team was shutout last night despite 42 shots on goal. A goal in the first 10 minutes should calm their nerves.

- And get in hard on the forecheck. The Blades have shown they can be exposed with a forecheck, something Swift Current didn’t really do at all last night.

For Saskatoon

- Keep the powerplay momentum going. 2 goals last night with the man advantage. That has to help the confidence for the unit that has struggled in recent weeks.

- Take advantage of a young blueline in Edmonton. It’s a young group and rushing their decisions can help force mistakes.

- And Steven Stanford needs to answer the bell. His buddy Adam Morrison had a near shutout performance last night, Stanford needs to use that as motivation to shut the door on the high powered offense of the Oil Kings tonight.


Puck drop goes at 7:05 at the Credit Union Centre. You can listen to the game on 92.9 The Bull as well. Pregame starts at 6:30 for the broadcast.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Blades dump injury-riddled Broncos

The Saskatoon Blades threw 40 shots on the Swift Current goal en route to a convincing 3-1 win on Friday night at CUC.

The Broncos had all the odds in the world up against them. They are part way through a massive road trip during the month of December that see's them play 11 straight on the road. They also only dressed 9 forwards in the game, 2 of which were 15 year old AP's.

It showed in the game.

They were outgunned from the puck drop.

The Blades got powerplay goals from Josh Nicholls and Stefan Elliott in the first period. The Nicholls' goal at 16:37 set off an avalanche of toques on toque-toss night.

The remaining time in the period would be tagged onto the 2nd period, per WHL rules.

Anyways, that score held up through 40 as the Broncos played very gritty hockey to hold the Blades at bay.

Just over 5 minutes into the third Matej Stransky would put it away for the Blades as he got his 7th of the year off a great individual effort as he worked the puck from behind the net, to the side as he buried it past Mark Friesen.

The only thing left was the shutout for Adam Morrison. Unfortunately that was spoiled with 10 seconds left as Jordan Peddle bounced one up and over Mo to end the shutout bid. It was a tough end to a great team effort.

Morrison made 27 saves for the win while Mark Friesen had 37 saves in a losing effort.

Special teams was another huge story in the game as Saskatoon was 2 for 5 on the PP, while holding the Broncos scoreless in 7 chances.

Luckily for Swift Current, they now enter their holiday break and don't play again until the 28th of December. Saskatoon has one more game before their break.

Tomorrow night they host Michael St. Croix and the Edmonton Oil Kings. Puck drop goes at 7:05. Pregame on 92.9 The Bull starts at 6:30.

Blades host injury-riddled Broncos

The Saskatoon Blades play host to the Swift Current Broncos tonight at the Credit Union Centre.

The Blades are coming off a loss in Moose Jaw to the Warriors, while the Broncos are coming off a loss in Edmonton to the Oil Kings on Wednesday.

The Broncos are going to be facing an uphill battle in the game. They are about 3/4 of the way through an 11 game road trip. For the month of December they started with two games at home, before starting off on the trip that see's them play their final game on the 1st of January, on the road. Talk about a tough stretch.

To make it harder, they are also facing a bad case of the injury bug. On Wednesday night in Edmonton, they played the game with only 7 forwards. During the road trip so far they have lost 4 players to injury, along with losing Cody Eakin to Canada's World Junior Team.

It's going to take a big effort for this Broncos team to battle that adversity and the short bench to get some points in the standings here in Saskatoon.

Here are my keys to the game:

For Swift Current

- Lean heavy on Justin Dowling. He’s their leading point getter, and they need him to show why tonight with Eakin gone and a young lineup.

- Weather a storm early. The Blades won’t be pleased with their last effort in a loss to Moose Jaw and Swift Current needs to come out of the first 20 minutes atleast even on the scoreboard.

- And Mark Friesen needs a better start tonight. He was pulled the last time these teams met in November at CUC.

For Saskatoon

- Grind their defense down. With such a young blueline for the Broncos, that extra physical play can go a long way to creating turnovers and creating chances.

- Play an up tempo game. With Swift Current being tired and injured, a short bench can be exposed with a quick paced game.

- And goaltending needs to bounce back. Stanford wasn’t the main reason to blame in the loss to MJ, but it wasn’t really there when the team needed it to be last game. Regardless of who starts tonight, the goalies have to play well.

The game starts at 7:05 from CUC. You can listen on 92.9 The Bull if you can't make it to the game. The broadcast starts at 6:30 with the pre-game show.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Blades' Curtis Hamilton passes final test

The final 9 cuts for Team Canada's entry into the World Junior Hockey Championships were made bright and early this morning, and Blades forward Curtis Hamilton wasn't among them.

The cuts came after downing a team of CIS All-Stars last night 6-2.

Those players sent packing were:

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Red Deer Rebels)
Ryan Murphy (Kitchener Rangers)
Ryan Murray (Everett Silvertips)
Mark Pysyk (Edmonton Oil Kings)

Brandon Pirri (Rockford Ice Hogs)
Riley Sheahen (Notre Dame)
Michael Bournival (Shawinigan Cataractes)

Calvin Pickard (Seattle Thunderbirds)
JP Anderson (Mississauga St. Mike's Majors)


Here's how the team shapes up:

On defense, Jared Cowen, Calvin de Haan, Ryan Ellis, Dylan Olsen, Simon Despres, Tyson Barrie and Erik Gudbranson.

Up front, Brayden Schenn, Carter Ashton, Casey Cizikas, Brett Connolly, Cody Eakin, Marcus Foligno, Curtis Hamilton, Quinton Howden, Ryan Johansen, Zack Kassian, Louis Leblanc, Jaden Schwartz and 18-year-old Sean Couturier.

And in goal, Olivier Roy and Mark Visentin.

Breaking it down by leagues:

WHL - 9 players
OHL - 7 players
QMJHL - 4 players
NCAA - 2 players

So much for Dave Cameron possibly having an East-coast bias.

An exhibition schedule kicks off next Monday for Canada where they will play Switzerland. Canada's first tournament game goes on Boxing Day against Russia from Buffalo.

Now I want to look back at my predictions that I made for the team on November 30th. They can be found here:

http://whl-from-above.blogspot.com/2010/11/my-world-junior-team-prediction.html

In goal, I went 0 for 2. I said Calvin Pickard and JP Anderson would get picked, and clearly I was wrong.

On defense, I picked 6 of 7 correctly. The only difference is that I chose 17 year old Ryan Murphy, while Team Canada took Colorado Avalanche prospect Tyson Barrie.

On forward, I picked 8 of 13 correctly. I had chosen Hishon, Wilson, Vey, Nugent-Hopkins and Bournival. They were cut in favor of Cizikas, Eakin, Ashton, Foligno and Brayden Schenn.

To be fair, at the time I predicted a lack of Schenn, it was still up in the air whether or not he would return to junior from the LA Kings.

So, overall I went 14 out of 22 in my predictions. That's not too bad considering how up in the air everything was at the start of camp.

Blades fall in Moose Jaw

The Saskatoon Blades 3 game winning streak ended last night on the road against the Warriors.

Chris Collins had the lone Blades goal as the final was 4-1.

Moose Jaw had markers from Dylan McIlrath, Spencer Edwards, Morgan Rielly and Matt Grant.

Saskatoon's 11 point lead in the division was cut down to 9.

The Blades now have 2 games remaining before they enter the Christmas Break. They host the Swift Current Bronco's on Friday night, then get their first look at the Edmonton Oil Kings at home on Saturday night.

Both games are 7:05 puck drops.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blades head to Moose Jaw

It's a battle of the top 2 teams in the Eastern Division tonight from Moose Jaw.

It's also the third meeting of the season between the clubs, with each team taking one game. Both teams are also coming off wins in their last games and are playing great hockey.

Combined, they are 15-4-0-1 in their last 10 games.

Here are my keys to the game:

For Moose Jaw

- Have a fast start. In their last game they scored 4 goals in the first period, a similar effort tonight would go a long way.

- Have an aggressive forecheck. The Warriors found major success being fast on the puck last time these two teams met here in Moose Jaw and it led to a 5-1 win.

- And win the powerplay battle. The Blades have struggled while Moose Jaw is 5th in the league on home ice with the man advantage.

For Saskatoon

- Another strong game from Brent Benson is needed. He was star one in the game on Sunday against Kootenay. The 17 year old is truly taking advantage of his role as the 2nd line center.

- Stay physical. You know Moose Jaw is going to try and lay some big hits, the Blades have to be able to take those hits, and return the favour.

- And limit turnovers in your own zone. The Warriors have a solid forecheck. Quick solid puck movement is going to be key tonight.


Puck drop goes at 7:00 from the Crushed Can. You can catch it on 92.9 The Bull starting with the pre-game show at 6:30.

Many WHLers among first cuts at Canada's World Junior camp

It wasn't the wakeup call that 9 players wanted this morning in Toronto as first cuts came down at World Junior camp.

Among those 9 were 5 guys from the WHL.

Brad Ross (Portland), Linden Vey (Medicine Hat), Ryan Howse (Chilliwack), Brendan Gallagher (Vancouver) and Brayden McNabb (Kootenay) were all given their walking papers. It's not terribly shocking to see WHL guys on the outside looking in. Head coach Dave Cameron is an OHL guy, and is obviously going to be more familiar with guys from the East. It's just a reality of the situation, fair or not.

The other 4 players cut were Joey Hishon (Owen Sound), Garrett Wilson (Owen Sound), Jesse Blacker (Owen Sound) and Reilly Smith (Miami (Ohio) NCAA).

Next up for the remaining players, a matchup tonight against the Canadian University National Team.

9 more players still need to be cut from the squad.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blades melt the Ice

It was a tough end to a tough road trip for the Kootenay Ice.

Saskatoon handled the Ice 4-2 at the Credit Union Centre.

Erik Benoit got the Ice on the board first in the game at 13:56 of the first period. After that, the Blades scored three straight to take control of the game as it was 3-1 in the 2nd.

Kootenay's top goal scorer Max Reinhart got his 17th of the year with just over 7 minutes left in the 2nd period to cut the Blades lead to one at 3-2.

But that was as close as the Ice would come.

Brent Benson would put it out of reach with a nice goal following an amazing save by Steven Stanford. A shot bounced up and over Stanford, but he was able to dive back and get his blocker on the puck and just get enough of it to knock it wide of the open cage. The puck came up the Ice and Benson buried his 6th of the year at 14:47 of the third.

The other Blade scorers were Stefan Elliott, Marek Viedensky and Alex Elliott. Alex Elliott's goal was his first WHL goal.

Stanford ended up with 25 saves in a winning cause. Nathan Lieuwen was once again the story for the Ice. The 6'5 monster had 41 saves in defeat.

The Blades were 0 for 2 on the powerplay. Saskatoon's PK was the bigger story, holding the Ice to one goal on seven chances. That included 2 big kills in the third period when the game was 3-2 and 4-2 respectively.

Next up for the Blades, a Tuesday night tilt in Moose Jaw against the Warriors.

Blades trade Tyler Kizuik

With the WHL roster freeze just around the corner, the Saskatoon Blades decided to pull the trigger on a minor deal.

18 year old defenseman Tyler Kizuik was traded to the Lethrbridge Hurricanes for a 6th round pick in the 2011 Bantam Draft.

In 12 games this year with Saskatoon Kizuik was pointless, a minus 2, with 9 penalty minutes.

His playing time had been cut back since the acquisition of Conner Cox last month. The team is now left with only 6 healthy defenders.

Friday, December 10, 2010

From the Beach to the Blizzard

Back from my vacation and straight back to business.

And the Blades sure didn't disappoint, that's for certain. A great comeback effort saw them beat the visiting Everett Silvertips 5-4 in overtime.

The Tips came out strong, jumping out to 2 goal lead through 21:13 of total play in the game. The Blades constantly played from behind in the game, trailing: 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2 and 4-3 throughout.

But, that persistence paid off in the end. Matty Stransky would pick up the puck in the corner, drive it hard to the net and pot the game tying goal with under 10 seconds remaining to tie it at 4 and force overtime.

1:44 into OT Jake Trask would net his 2nd of the game and the gamewinner off a shot from the high circle that found it's way past a screened Kent Simpson.

The goal scorers for Everett were Tyler Maxwell, Josh Birkholz and Parker Stanfield with 2. Maxwell had a 4 point night in total for Everett, showing why he is their leading scorer.

The Blades goals came from Stefan Elliott, Matty Stransky, Dalton Thrower and 2 from Jake Trask.

Both teams were 1 for 4 on the PP.

The Blades outshot Everett 47-20 in total, with Kent Simpson saving the Silvertips bacon on more than one occasion. He had 42 saves in a losing cause, while Steven Stanford moved to 15-1 on the year with a 16 save performance.

Next up for the Blades, a home date with Kootenay on Sunday night, with game time starting an hour earlier than normal at 6:05 from CUC.

Saskatoon will be missing Curtis Hamilton for the next few games as the winger is off to Toronto tomorrow morning for World Junior camp with Team Canada. Best of luck to him, and I would bet my life savings he makes the team.