By Les Lazaruk
The team’s second-youngest player almost single-handedly led the Western Hockey League’s longest, continuously-playing franchise to a milestone victory Sunday.
Rookie goaltender Nolan Maier, who only turned 17 years old on January 10, stopped 38 of 39 shots through regulation and overtime. He then made five more stops in a seven-round shootout as the Saskatoon Blades out-lasted the Regina Pats 2-1. It was the 1,700th victory in Blades’ franchise history. The team has participated in every single one of the 52 WHL seasons
“(Maier), obviously, stole it for us, right?” asked assistant coach Ryan Keller in rhetorical fashion. “The shots may not have been a big discrepancy, but the quality of scoring chances and the quality of shots he faced were big-time.”
With both teams playing their third game in less than 48 hours, the home-standing bridge city bunch had the early energy, taking a 1-0 lead on Logan Christensen’s first period power play goal. But, the momentum shifted over to the queen city kids near the end of the first period and carried on for most of the rest of the contest. Regina out-shot the blue and gold 39-29, but only Matt Bradley could beat Maier on a third period man advantage.
Both teams had great chances to win in the five-minute, three-on-three overtime session but 17-year-old Pats rookie Max Paddock matched Maier save for save leading to a shootout that lasted seven rounds. Braylon Shmyr for the Blades in the third round and Jesse Gabrielle in the fourth round for Regina managed to extend the shootout until Round 7. That’s when Michael Farren scored and Josh Mahura shovelled a shot wide of the Saskatoon net while falling.
With Prince Albert losing 6-5 to visiting Swift Current Sunday, the 28-26-3 bridge city bunch move four points ahead of the Raiders into fifth place in the East Division and eighth place in the Eastern Conference…the second and final wild-card playoff spot. The 28 wins matches the total the Blue and Gold had last season, as does the 17 victories on home ice. The Blades have won five-in-a-row at SaskTel Centre. Saskatoon also crept closer to the 29-23-6 Pats…five points back of fourth place in the East Division and the first wild-card post-season berth. Meanwhile, the single point for Regina puts them just one point behind Brandon for third place in the East Division…a guaranteed playoff position.
The Blades play their next four games on the road in the Central Division, starting Wednesday in Cranbrook, B.C., against the Kootenay ICE.