Saturday, April 30, 2011

Myles Bell Has An Uphill Climb Ahead

It's an awful situation and no one should ever have to go through it.

According to a report from the police and a report from the Regina Pats hockey club, defenseman Myles Bell was involved in a fatal car crash this morning near Calgary. The 17 year old was apparently behind the wheel, while an 18 year old female passenger in the vehicle was killed.

Not many details have been released.

But, according to the RCMP report alcohol and speed were both a factor as the car lost control and rolled several times before coming to a stop in the ditch. The name of the deceased has not yet been released, but according to the statement from the Pats, she was a close family friend to Regina GM Brent Parker and a friend of his daughter.

Now, at this point in time it's certainly not clear how alcohol was involved, but anyone can put two and two together and assume the worst. It's already an unfortunate situation that would be even more so if in fact Bell is the one that had been drinking.

Bell remains in hospital with "serious injuries" and according to the report the investigation continues with pending charges against him.

Details remain very sketchy at this point but one thing becomes painfully clear, Bell's personal and professional life as a hockey player are very much up in the air.

The slick skating offensive defender was well on his way to being a 1st round NHL draft pick this coming June.

But that hit to his career will be dwarfed in comparison to what he will have to face day in and day out for the rest of his life, the fact that he was at fault for the death of a young woman....if in fact that is how this sad story unfolded.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Eakin Awarded For Strong Start To Round 3

The Cody Eakin trade is paying off big time, so far, for the Kootenay Ice.

The Ice have jumped out to a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Medicine Hat Tigers in the 3rd round of the WHL playoffs.

Eakin has been a big part of that.

Today he was also rewarded for his work so far in the postseason, being named the WHL's player of the week.

He had two game winning goals and added a pair of assists in the first two games of the series. It's been a big year all around for Eakin, a Washington Capitals 3rd round pick. He had 36 goals and 83 points in only 56 games this year in the WHL. He also won a silver medal with Team Canada at the World Juniors in Buffalo. All of that after winning a Calder Cup in the AHL last year.

I expect him to see atleast a handful of games next year with the Capitals. He almost made the team this past fall after a very strong pro camp as a 19 year old.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

WHL MVP Nominees Announced

A goalie and a forward are the two nominees as the WHL's top players for the 2010-2011 season.

In the Eastern Conference, Saskatoon-native and Red Deer Rebels goalie Darcy Kuemper is the nominee.

His numbers were absolutely freakish this season. 45 wins, a 1.86 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. He also had an unbelieveable 13 shutouts. Hell, he had more shutouts than regulation losses this year. (He only last 12 times, outside of extra-time play).

In the Western Conference, Tyler Johnson of the Spokane Chiefs is the nominee.

The 5'9 centre scored 53 goals and had 115 points this year, one back of the league lead set by Tigers forward Linden Vey. The Spokane native has also lead his Chiefs into the third round of the WHL playoffs. He also earned himself a pro contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

Both nominees are more than deserving and it should be interesting to see who gets the nod from the league at their award banquet later in May.

Will Curtis Hamilton Be Back Next Year?

As expected, it sounds like Curtis Hamilton won't be back with the Saskatoon Blades.

The Edmonton Oilers second round draft pick of 2010 finished up his career with the Blades in a sad fashion, a 2nd round sweep at the hands of the Kootenay Ice earlier this month.

He has since moved on in his hockey life and is currently taking in some AHL playoff hockey with the Oklahoma City Barons as they take on the Hamilton Bulldogs. He joined the team late last week and so far hasn't played in a playoff game, and likely doesn't expect to.

But what about his future? As in next year?

Well, that might have been cleared up last night during the Barons radio broadcast. Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe apparently appeared as a guest during one of the intermissions and had a few things to say about Hamilton.

That included saying that the big winger will not be returning to junior for next season, instead he will stay in the AHL to round out his skills. It's not exactly shocking news, in fact it's what I expected.

Hamilton would still be eligible for one more year of WHL hockey, but because of his birthdate, he is eligible to turn pro earlier than some other players drafted in 2010.

For next year I would expect to see him playing a 3rd or 4th line role with the Barons in the AHL after showing what he can do at Oilers rookie camp in the coming months. It's a tough blow to the Saskatoon Blades, but these are the things that happen with talented junior players.


The news on this blog has been a little slower over the last few days since the Blades season ended. I have been taking a bit of a break after the tough result I had to watch in round 2. I will do my best to keep you up to date with certain things happening around the league and with certain NHL draft prospects. That includes some mocks as the 2011 NHL draft approaches in June.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Brayden McNabb Is WHL POTW

Saskatoon Blades fans are all to aware of the dominant force that is Brayden McNabb of the Kootenay Ice.

In many cases the big defenseman from Davidson, Saskatchewan single handedly shut down the Blades attack as the Ice swept the Blades out of the second round of the playoffs.

McNabb has now been honoured as the WHL's player of the week.

The Buffalo Sabres third round pick in 2009 had a goal and five assists in 4 games during the sweep.

The Ice now face the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Medicine Hat knocked out #2 seeded Red Deer in 5 games.

A Big Day For Curtis Hamilton

Curtis Hamilton has signed on with the Edmonton Oilers. Hamilton was a second round pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft.

The Saskatoon Blades forward had a breakout year this past season, while finally managing to stay healthy. He had 82 points in 62 games. That included 26 goals and a team leading 56 assists. He was also a +48, 4th best on the team.

In the playoffs he was second on the team with 11 points in 10 games, including a team leading 7 assists.

Hamilton also won a silver medal (lost the gold) at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, NY.

Hamilton was a leader for the Saskatoon Blades and is now fully AHL eligible for next season due to his birthdate. I don't expect him to be back with the Blades next season and I wish him the best of luck in the future. I would expect him to fill a 3rd or 4th line role for Oklahoma City (Oilers farm club) next year.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Blades Announce Playoff MVP

Steven Stanford has been named as the Saskatoon Blades 2010-2011 playoff Most Valuable Player.

The 20 year old goalie played in all 10 Blades playoff games this spring. He posted .930 save percentage and a 2.52 GAA, while winning 4 games and losing 6.

Stanford was a class act all season and I always had a good time interviewing him after games, despite the fact that he is a man of very few words. I did actually manage to make him laugh once, which is a pretty big accomplishment if you ask me.

It sounds like he will be trying to keep his options open to see if he gets any interest from the pro's. If not, he will make a damn fine Canadian University goalie for some team out there.

Congrats on a great year and a great WHL career Stanny.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Saskatoon Blades Season Comes To An Abrupt End

I don't think anybody could have expected an ending like this to the Saskatoon Blades season. A four game sweep at the hands of the Kootenay Ice.

Being gone to Cranbrook kept me away from this blog. I never posted a game 3 recap because of no wireless internet, and frankly, game 3 did not deserve a recap.

It was the Blades chance to get back in the series, as they trailed 2-0 at that point in time. But, they came out flat and played once again with a major lack of confidence.

The final was 3-0.

The Blades mustered only 10 shots on goal through 40 minutes and Nathan Lieuwen made it look easy throughout. It was easily the worst performance I have seen from the team all year.

Game 4 was a much better effort, but it still wasn't enough.

The Blades even scored first, and led 1-0 after one. But, an early PP goal in the 2nd by Max Reinhart turned the tables. Matt Fraser scored just over 6 minutes later and the Ice were well on their way.

Saskatoon was never able to recover. They dug down deep and there was simply nothing there. They fell 5-2 in game 4 and were bumped out of the WHL playoffs.

So what exactly happened?

Were they outworked?

Was the Ice goaltending that much better?

Was the lack of special teams success too much to overcome?

Did their "star" players get out played by the Ice star players?

Were they outcoached?

Did they just not get the good bounces?

Were some of their older players already looking ahead to bigger and better things?

To be honest, I think it's a combination of everything. Each one of those things was a factor in the Blades downfall, a 4-0 2nd round sweep by the Ice.

I have so many thoughts on this downfall, but am having a hard time putting them into words. It was supposed to be the perfect ending to this season. The stars seemed to be aligning for this organization.

The big trade to bring in Brayden Schenn will be criticised by many people for many years, and that's fine, because it comes with the territory.

But for me, Schenn wasn't the problem. He (along with Hamilton) led the Blades in playoff scoring, and he was one of the players that put in a consistent effort on a game to game basis. Did he try to do too much? Possibly. But atleast he was out there giving it his all, trying his best to carry the team when it was clear some of the players weren't on the same page.

With that being said, he was still part of the team, the team that was swept in round 2. It's a shared blame by all those involved.

It's going to be a long summer and a long offseason. Much longer than the organization had wanted it to be. This one stings, and it will for a while.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blades-Ice Game 3 Preview

Well, I figured I would post this game 3 preview right now. I am heading out to B.C. this evening for the 10+ hour bus ride.

We won't get in to Cranbrook until around noon tomorrow. That won't give me much time to sit down and post a blog while getting to the hotel, showered and changed and off to the rink for game 3 tomorrow night, so I might as well do this now.

Saskatoon is up against a wall here in game 3. Even game 2 could have been seen as a sort of "must win" situation, which they managed to lose.

The biggest thing that has become apparent through the first two games against the Kootenay Ice has been the lack of finish around the goal.

The top two lines have combined for two goals through two games, simply not good enough. Nathan Lieuwen has been good, including a 50 save performance in game 2, but the Blades have had their chances. There has been rebound after rebound that has managed to be fired wide or that has bounced over the players stick before they have had a chance to whack it home.

The top players have to be your top players. It's plain and simple. The Ice have done a great job shutting down those players, but at some point they seem to be due for a breakout shift, period or game.

I also think that getting away from Saskatoon might be a good thing for the team. Playing in front of 8,000 screaming fans can work wonders, but it also provides that extra pressure. You miss a chance on a rebound and all of a sudden you are squeezing that stick extra tight the next time that situation comes around.

With all that being said, here are my keys to the game 3:

For Kootenay

- Keep things simple defensively. They have been able to spend very limited amounts of time stuck in their own zone this year because of quick puck movement on breakouts.

- Continue to block shots. That type of commitment wins games and series come postseason. It’s something they have to continue to do.

- And win the special teams battle. They’ve done it in the first two games and that can make or break a series.

For Saskatoon

- Start to get dirty. They have to be more aggressive around that front of the net and take advantage of some of the big rebounds Lieuwen has left hanging around the crease.

- Get your point shots through. The Ice forwards have been amazing at getting a piece of shots coming from the Blades blueliners. It’s something that Saskatoon has to discuss and work through.

- And the best players have to be the best players. Schenn managed to score a goal late last game, but the Ice have done an amazing job limiting players like Schenn, Hamilton, Viedensky and Nicholls. It’s crunch time for that group on the road.

Once again, games 3 and 4 can be heard live on 92.9 The Bull on Tuesday and Wednesday night. If you are going to watch the games on Shaw, make sure you turn down the TV and crank up the Bull.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Blades Fall In Game 2

It's going to be an uphill climb from here for the Saskatoon Blades.

Joe Antilla played overtime hero last night as he scored late in the first overtime frame, giving the Kootenay Ice a 3-2 win over Saskatoon.

With the win, Kootenay leads the series 2-0.

The Ice got their goals in regulation from Max Reinhart and Matt Fraser. Saskatoon had a goal from Brent Benson in the 2nd and a late goal from Brayden Schenn to force overtime.

Antilla's goal came at 18:32 of OT number one as he walked down his off wing and shelved a wrist shot past Steven Stanford. A crowd of over 8,000 turned out to watch the Blades fall.

Once again Nathan Lieuwen was a huge story, making 50 saves to carry his team home with a 2-0 series lead. Many of those 50 saves were of the spectacular variety, especially down the stretch in the 3rd and into overtime.

The Blades powerplay, or lack of one, also turned out to be something that changed the game. They went 0 for 6 and are now 0 for 9 in the series.

Games 3 and 4 will now be on the road for Saskatoon as they leave this morning for Cranbrook, BC. Maybe getting away from the city and the attention will be good for this team. Those games go on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Blades Look To Bounce Back In Game 2

The Saskatoon Blades will be looking to get into bounce back mode as they host the Kootenay Ice for game 2 tonight.

Last night was a game that turned quickly in the Ice' favour. A shot off the post by Stefan Elliott, a penalty against and then a powerplay for Kootenay...all within the first minute and a half of the game.

It's not the start they wanted and it put them behind the 8-ball early.

The Ice did a great job keying on Saskatoon's top end forwards, forcing them to the outside and then blocking shots. It looked very similar to how the PA Raiders defended the Blades at the Art Hauser Centre in round 1.

Tonight is a new game, a clean slate and they need a fresh start.

Here are my keys to the game:

For Kootenay

- Get off to another quick start. They scored just over a minute in last night and Saskatoon was forced to play catch up the entire night. That makes it tough on any team.

- Continue to lean on Brayden McNabb. I wouldn’t be shocked if he played near 30 minutes last night and he made a ton of key defensive plays. That is going to be needed again tonight.

For Saskatoon

- Get off to a better start. The emotion level needs to be better here tonight from the Blades, and that can happen with a more physical and energetic start.

- Steven Stanford needs a bounce back game. The loss last night can’t be blamed on one player, but the 20 year old is counted on to make key saves at key times.

And for both teams, who is going to get that key powerplay goal. These teams are the top two teams in penalty killing so far in the playoffs at just a shade under 90 percent on the PK.

Puck drop goes at 7:05 from CUC. The pregame show starts at 6:00 on 92.9 The Bull.

Kootenay Takes Game 1

Coming into the game, Les Lazaruk and I discussed the rivalry, or the lack of one heading into this series.

For Saskatoon, game 1 looked like a 60 minute "feeling out process", and played as if there was no rivalry. They just seemed "off" throughout the game. They didn't play as themselves. There even seemed to be a lack of emotion on the bench in last night's game, save a few players.

The Ice didn't let the obstacle of unfamiliarity stand in their way as they jumped on the board early, got very solid goaltending and took advantage of solid special teams play to earn a 4-1 game 1 win.

Matt Fraser scored only 1:14 into the game and that seemed to set the tone, taking some of the pressure off the Ice while playing in a much bigger and louder building than they are used to.

Later in the first Stefan Elliott tied the game while playing 4 on 4 hockey, but that ended up the only marker the team got on the night.

Keving King and Max Reinhart scored in the 2nd to give the Ice a 2 goal lead heading into the final frame where Fraser iced it with an empty netter.

Nathan Lieuwen made 35 saves for the win, while Steven Stanford made 29 saves in the loss.

2 of the Ice' 4 goals came with the man advantage, a big boost to them considering that PP only clicked at 11 percent in round 1 versus Moose Jaw.

The Blades were 0 for 3 with the powerplay.

Game 2 goes tonight at 7:05 from Saskatoon. I will attempt to get a preview post up sometime later this morning, hopefully before 11.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blades Host Ice For Game 1

Tonight is game one of the second round series between the Kootenay Ice and the Saskatoon Blades. Both teams are coming off successful first rounds, as both teams won in 6 games.

The Blades home ice advantage, that they worked so hard for in the regular season, is something that they can really be pleased about these days. It's a big advantage to open up such a "big travel series" here on home ice. The Ice were travelling to Saskatoon already on Wednesday while the Blades were at home and resting in their own beds. Things will eventually even out, but having the first two games in Saskatoon is something that has to feel good to this organization.

It will be interesting to see the feeling out process between these two teams. They aren't overly familiar with each other, having met 4 times throughout the year. The Blades won all 4 of those games, so Kootenay will really want to get things off on the right foot, no doubt.

Here are my keys to the game:

For Kootenay

- They need someone to step up offensively. Cody Eakin will be the key guy to shutdown, and if he is covered well tonight they need another player to hit the score sheet in a big way.

- Nathan Lieuwen needs to be big. He has been this team’s backbone this season and he needs to show why in a very big game one.

- And get the powerplay rolling. They were only 3 for 27 in the opening round against Moose Jaw.

For Saskatoon

- Come out physical. They can’t wait for a feeling out process, they need to hit Kootenay in the mouth right off the bat.

- Offense from the blueline needs to continue. It’s an edge the Blades have over Kootenay when looking at the rosters and that needs to be something this team can count on.

- And go hard at Brayden McNabb. The big Ice blueliner is a monster that plays a ton of minutes. They need to make him work every single time out and try to tire him out as this series goes along.

Puck drop goes at 7:05 from CUC, with our pregame on 92.9 The Bull starting at 6:00.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Saskatoon Blades (1) vs. Kootenay Ice (4) Series Preview

The Saskatoon Blades survived a bit of a scare in round 1 against the Prince Albert Raiders. It was a hard fought series in many aspects. That can definitely be looked at in a couple of different ways. Does it show a weakness that they were pushed to the limit? Possibly. But, it also was a great test and a great wakeup call for the team, letting them know they can’t sit back and take teams lightly.

The Kootenay Ice knocked off the Moose Jaw Warriors in round 1. That was a series that I expected to be more hard fought than it was. The Warriors were a team designed with size and speed, a perfect playoff-type team. But, Kootenay deserved the win.

These two teams provide some interesting challenges for each other and match up quite nicely.

Here’s my Saskatoon Blades and Kootenay Ice Series Preview:

Saskatoon Blades (1) vs. Kootenay Ice (4)

Saskatoon matched up well during the regular season against the Ice, going 4-0. They also outscored Kootenay 20-8. But as we all know, the regular season should get tossed out the window in situations like this. I agree for the most part, but atleast the Blades can take the ice with a sense of confidence, knowing that they have matched up well with their opponent all year.

Up Front

The Kootenay Ice really do feature a hard working group of forwards. The only real big name they have is Cody Eakin. The former Bronco is a top notch player and has shown that so far in the playoffs with 5 points in 6 games. That doesn’t lead the team though, as that honour is held by Matt Fraser and his 5 goals and 7 points. Other forwards to watch out for include Max Reinhart, Joe Antilla and Kevin King.

Curtis Hamilton and Brayden Schenn showed their pro-calibre abilities in round 1 for Saskatoon, leading the Blades with 10 points each against the Raiders. The depth of the Blades was also on display in round 1 with third line players like Matej Stransky and Chris Collins stepping to the plate and providing offense. They will also look for more offense from players like Marek Viedensky and Josh Nicholls to truly show off their balance in comparison to the Ice.

Saskatoon’s balance and depth, along with their star power is superior to the Ice. They take this area, especially considering the Blades scored almost 40 goals more during the regular season.

The Blueline

The big stud on the blueline in this series is Brayden McNabb. He is such a unique combination of size and both offensive and defensive ability. So far in the playoffs he is +8 (a team high) and also had 6 points in 6 games. He has shown he can elevate his game when it’s crunch time. James Martin and Joey Leach are two other guys that slide under the radar but provide solid depth to Kootenay.

Saskatoon was led by their captain in the first series. Teigan Zahn might have blocked more shots than Steven Stanford did in round 1. Besides him, Stefan Elliott did his thing, registering 6 points in 6 games. The second pairing of Duncan Siemens and Darren Dietz also provided 4 points each from the blueline, showing that Saskatoon get offense from the blueline.

This area is very close to call. I feel like McNabb is the best all-round defenseman in the series, but the Blades have a higher calibre of depth to role out shift after shift. Saskatoon takes this area of the matchup .

Between The Pipes

The Kootenay Ice will count on their version of the Yeti between the pipes in this series. 6’5 Nathan Lieuwen is the go to guy. The BC native had a very strong regular season and those numbers didn’t quite translate into round 1.

Saskatoon will look to 20 year old Steven Stanford once again. He had a couple of questionable games in 3 and 4 of their last series, but outside of those two games he was very very good. He will need to repeat that again for Saskatoon to win here.

Lieuwen was 4-2 with a 2.55GAA and an .894 save percentage in round 1.

Stanford was 4-2 with a 2.15GAA and a .941 save percentage in round 1.

This is one area that is very close among the two teams. If there is one area that I will have to take the Kootenay Ice in this series, this is going to be it. Kootenay has the edge in goal by the slimmest of margins.

Special Teams

Kootenay’s PP was 3/27 @ 11.1% in round 1.
Kootenay’s PK was 30/34 @ 88.2% in round 1.

Saskatoon’s PP was 7/28 @ 25% in round 1.
Saskatoon’s PK was 31/33 @ 93.9% in round 1.

These teams also possessed very similar numbers in the regular season, with Saskatoon having the slight edge overall. Both teams also have a tendency to score shorthanded. They were the top two teams in that category over the 72 game regular season.

Based off of the regular season and round 1 numbers, Saskatoon wins this category.

The Sked

#1 - Kootenay @ Saskatoon Fri. April 8 7:05pm
#2 - Kootenay @ Saskatoon Sat. April 9 7:05pm
#3 - Saskatoon @ Kootenay Tues. April 12 7:00pm
#4 - Saskatoon @ Kootenay Wed. April 13 7:00pm
#5 - Kootenay @ Saskatoon Sat. April 16 7:05pm**
#6 - Saskatoon @ Kootenay Mon. April 18 7:00pm**
#7 - Kootenay @ Saskatoon Wed. April 20 7:05pm**

**if necessary

The Guessing

The Blades are the top ranked team in the WHL for a reason. When comparing the two teams, they stack up closely, with Saskatoon having the slight edge most of the time. That to me shows that this series will be a tight one and the Ice will have to be disciplined and will need to get key plays at key times to come out on top.

I take Saskatoon in 6 games.

Other Series Predictions

Red Deer over Medicine Hat in 6 games

Portland over Kelowna in 6 games

Spokane over Tri City in 7 games

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blades Advance to Round 2

As I said on the radio tonight, Matej Stransky started the series with a bang, and he ended it with one too.

The 17 year old ended the Saskatoon Blades series against the Prince Albert Raiders in dramatic fashion, scoring the overtime winner that sends Saskatoon to round 2 of the WHL playoffs.

The Raiders came out early in the game with Antoine Corbin scoring on a point shot only 2:43 into the game. It was the start the Raiders wanted and needed, and that lead held for quite some time.

Brent Benson finally got the Blades on the board, over 12 minutes into the second as he deflected a puck between the legs of Jamie Tucker on a 2 on 1 with Darian Dziurznski.

The game remained scoreless down the stretch and into overtime.

Both teams had their chances in overtime, but at 4:24 the Raiders season was over.

Goalie Jamie Tucker was behind the net playing the puck and heard his name called. He slid the puck to that player, which turned out to be Marek Viedensky. Viedensky grabbed the puck and slid it in front where Matej Stransky fired it home.

The Saskatoon Blades advance in 6 hard fought games.

The goalies were a huge story in the game. Steven Stanford made 33 saves to earn the win. Jamie Tucker made 41 saves in a losing effort.

The Blades will now take on either the 4th seeded Kootenay Ice or the 6th seeded Brandon Wheat Kings.

Brandon currently trails Medicine Hat 3-2 in that series with game 6 going tomorrow night in Winnipeg. It will take 2 huge wins for the Wheaties to come out of that one. I fully expect to see a Kootenay-Saskatoon second round matchup. That would leave the Tigers and Rebels to meet in the other matchup out East.

That would also mean that all 4 top seeds in both conferences would advance to the 2nd round.

The first two games of round 2 for the Blades will start Friday and Saturday in Saskatoon, that is for certain. As for games 3 and 4, they could potentially be set for Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

Once all the matchups are set I will attempt to post some more predictions, we'll see how that works out. The previews I did for round 1 took longer than I expected and I have other writing commitments I have been putting off for a little while, so I doubt we will see a full scale preview for round 2.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Game 6 Between Raiders and Blades

Saskatoon has the first chance to knock off the opponent tonight.

It's going to take a big effort to make sure it's the only chance they need. The Raiders let last night get away from them in the second period but will have a lot of positives going for them coming into tonight's game.

It's at home, in front of their own crowd. It's a place that they are familiar with and it's a place they have had success so far in this postseason.

The Raiders will need to draw off the positives from games 3 and 4 and get down to business early in tonight's game.

Sometimes we see teams totally fold up after losing a crucial game, like last night was where the Blades romped the Raiders 8-0. I doubt we see that type of performance out of PA again tonight.

On the Blades side of things, it's going to take a committed team effort and some timely offense tonight. Offense has been tough to come by at the Art Hauser for the Blades. The smaller ice surface (yes, it is smaller) plays into the Raiders hands and doesn't allow for as much time and space. That is a focus in my keys to the game:

For Prince Albert

- Get off to a solid start. The building will be rocking and getting an early lead will be a huge.

- Jamie Tucker has to have a bounce back game. The loss wasn’t his fault necessarily yesterday, but he has to be good here tonight.

- And take advantage of the powerplay. The Blades did it yesterday, and the Raiders are more than capable of busting out on the PP as well. Two powerplay goals in a series is a deathwish, which is how many the Raiders have so far.

For Saskatoon

- Get as many shots as possible. They had trouble scoring here in games 3 and 4, part of that problem was being a bit too cute. Throw anything on net to make up for the lack of space.

- Stay aggressive towards the net. The Raiders took a number of penalties from frustration yesterday and the Blades killed them with the man advantage. That can be a smart strategy again tonight.

- And have that killer instinct. If there comes a time in this game to put it out of reach, they have to do so. They can't let the Raiders hang around if that's the case.

Game time goes at 7:00 from Prince Albert. You can catch the game on 92.9 The Bull starting with the hour long pregame show at 6:00.

Blades Rock Raiders in Game 5

It wasn't the start the Saskatoon Blades wanted in game 5. They threw 19 shots on Raiders goalie Jamie Tucker in the opening frame, but nothing found the back of the net.

Well, things sure got blown open in the 2nd period.

The Blades scored 6 goals in the fram en route to an 8-0 win, taking a 3-2 series lead.

Curtis Hamilton got things going early in period 2, scoring just 23 seconds in after a nice play by Brayden Schenn.

After that, Schenn, Marek Viedensky, Darian Dziurzynski, Jake Trask and Duncan Siemens scored to make it 6-0 after 2. In that frame the Blades scored 4 goals on the powerplay, setting a new single period franchise record for PP goals. It was a wild period to say the least.

The Blades added goals from Hamilton and Stefan Elliott in the 3rd to make the final 8-0. Jamie Tucker was chased from the Radier net after 2 and 17 year old Eric Williams allowed the final two goals.

Steven Stanford made 30 saves to record the shutout. Saskatoon threw 54 shots on the Raider goal.

Duncan Siemens was a monster in the game. He was a game time decision because of a lower body injury, but he didn't look out of place at all. He ended up with a 4 point night and made a half dozen slick defensive plays that turned into offensive chances. It might have been his best game of the year, and he's had many.

I spoke to him after the game and he could hardly walk, but said it was all about playing through the pain. He sure did.

Another highlight of the game was a 3rd period fight between big Austin Connor and Darren Dietz. Dietz punched Connor's visor clean off and earned the knock down with a few decent rights. Dietz isn't the biggest guy, but he has absolutely rocked a few guys this year. Cement for hands. Connor was bloodied up and left the game and didn't return. For someone 6'4, he sure doesn't fight very well.

So, the Blades lead the series 3-2 with game 6 going tonight at the Art Hauser Centre in PA. The Blades have to repeat their performance from last night and make sure this series doesn't go to 7.

I will hopefully be along with a preview later this morning.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pivotal Game 5 Tonight

Tonight is the big swing game in the series between the Saskatoon Blades and the Prince Albert Raiders.

Saskatoon will be looking to keep the winning ways alive on home ice, as all 4 games have been won by the home team so far.

Playing in front of the home crowd and back in familiar territory should go a long way for the Blades, as they looked overwhelmed playing games 3 and 4 in Prince Albert. The Raiders did an excellent job limiting time and space in the offensive zone for the Blades and Jamie Tucker made the saves when he was called upon.

The Blades could be without one of their big assets as defenseman Duncan Siemens is being called "a game time decision" for tonight's game 5. It should be interesting to see if he draws in, because he looked in pretty rough shape when leaving the ice in game 4 after injuring his "lower body".

If he can't go, expect the older Tanner Sohn to draw in, ahead of 16 year old Tommy Stipancik.

Here are my keys to the game:

For Prince Albert

- Continue to take away the slot area. The Blades have had no time and space in that area of the ice and the Raiders have seen success because of it.

- Be in the faces of the Blades players all game. You could see the frustration building in the last two games. The Raiders have to stay under the skin of Saskatoon.

- And keep the momentum. You do that by coming out with a good start tonight and having each line do something positive to start the game.

For Saskatoon

- Get offense from your depth. It worked well in the first two games, but that offense dried up in games 3 and 4. More balance will be key for the Blades tonight.

- Use their speed. It’s a bigger ice surface here in Saskatoon and that allows for the Blades speed and size to be more effective.

- And get the defense more involved in the offense. It’s a weapon this team hasn’t been able to use in the last 2 games, they can be more aggressive here at home.

Puck drops at 7:05 from CUC. You can catch the pregame show starting at 6:00 on 92.9 The Bull.