SASKATOON – Major junior hockey’s “dirty word” isn’t allowed to be uttered anymore in Saskatoon!
Following four consecutive seasons of not being in the Western Hockey League playoffs, after mortgaging the future in order to be a competitive host team for the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup, the Blades opened training camp Saturday with a lot of optimism that this will be the year in which they make a return appearance to the WHL post-season.
Of course, that’s what 21 other teams believe right now!
However, Blades’ management and coaching staff point towards not having to acquire an overage player from another WHL rival for the first time since 2013 as being a positive towards progressing upwards in the standings. Saskatoon did that last season, escaping the East Division basement for the first time in three years. They also have a large corps of returning players and a stream of good-looking prospects that many individual observers and scouting services believe will set up Saskatoon for success this season and for several seasons beyond!
For the Blades’ long-suffering fan base, the future is now, so let’s peek at how the 2017-18 roster stacks up
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Braylon Shmyr (97)*||Cameron Hebig (97)*||Josh Paterson (99)|
|Lukas MacKenzie (99)||Kirby Dach (01)||Michael Farren (00)|
|Gage Ramsey (98)||Logan Christensen (99)||Brady Goethals (98)|
|Cole Johnson (98)||Chase Wouters (00)||Caleb Fantillo (98)|
|Arjun Atwal (99)||Brandon Machado (00)||Matt Mosher (00)|
|Dryden Michaud (98)||Tyler Lees (00)||Ethan Mack (01)#|
|Joey Moffat (01)#||Logan Doust (01)#||Brady Nicholas (01)#|
|Ryan Denney (01)#|
-The Blades may not have to go out and acquire an overage player for the first time since 2013, but they have to part with one of four very good ones before the October 10 deadline. The belief is it will be one of the forwards, either Shmyr or Hebig. Shmyr led Saskatoon in goals (35) and points (66) last season while Hebig had 69 points, including 26 goals, in 59 games in 2015-16. He missed all of last season with an injury that even he can’t provide an answer as to what the issue was. But, the Saskatoon product does say that he has put the nagging injury behind him. Assuming one of Shmyr or Hebig is moved, the forward depth chart will change significantly with players changing positions in all likelihood. A “wildcard” in the group is Goethals, who comes to Saskatoon after playing 23 games with Everett last season. In 2015-16, he led the Manitoba Midget AAA League in goals (41) and points (74) in 43 games with the Eastman Selects.
|Left Defense||Right Defense|
|Libor Hajek (98)^||Evan Fiala (97)*|
|Jackson Caller (00)||Seth Bafaro (00)|
|Mark Rubinchik (99)^||Zach Ashton (01)#|
|Jake Kustra (99)||Jantzen Leslie (99)|
|Brandon Armstrong (99)||Payton McIssac (00)|
|Liam Antoniuk (01)#|
-This is a group with plenty of veteran depth. The five 1999-born players will be the key to the unit’s success, although the “greybeards” on the list (Hajek and Fiala) will be counted on for leadership and steadiness. Don’t be surprised if Hajek or one of the left-shot 99s are moved to the right side. Despite not having played a WHL game, 16-year-old Zach Ashton had a strong 2016-17 season in the Alberta Midget AAA League, especially when it comes to the offensive side of the game. When one considers Saskatoon received just 15 goals from the defence last season, Ashton’s offence could find him a spot with the Bridge City Bunch!
|Logan Flodell (97)*|
|Joel Grzybowski (99)#|
|Nolan Maier (01)#|
-The most secure job on the 2017-18 edition of the Blades is #1 goaltender. Flodell was a second team Eastern Conference all-star last season, the Bridge City Bunch’s M.V.P. and, arguably, the biggest reason why Saskatoon lopped 69 goals against in 2016-17 (248) from 2015-16 (317). However, when it comes to the back-up, that looms as quite a battle and decision. Grzybowski posted very impressive numbers with the S.J.H.L.-champion Battlefords North Stars last season. Maier is on Hockey Canada’s radar as one of the best 2001-born ‘tenders in the country!
#=has yet to play a WHL game