Just last season, the Saskatoon Blades were “robbed” of a playoff spot due to the way the Western Hockey League maintains it’s playoff positioning. The bridge city team had more points and a better record than both the Lethbridge Hurricanes and the Red Deer Rebels but both of those teams were able to see action in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
While the team wasn’t without it’s own set of ups and downs they did post a respectable 35-33-3-1 record over the season, good for 74 points, two more than Lethbridge and seven more than Red Deer. People in the city of Saskatoon were understandably upset at the format.
On March 18th, 2018 the tide began to turn when general manager Colin Priestner relieved Dean Brockman of his head coaching duties. “We have been in a playoff position two years in a row coming down the stretch and just haven’t been able to take that next step, which ultimately led us to this decision,” Blades general manager Colin Priestner said in a press release on that fateful day.
On the last day of May 2018, Priestner made another announcement, this one much more exciting than the last. “We’re thrilled to have Mitch commit long term to the Blades,” said Priestner. “We believe he is one of the top young coaches in the country and will bring a great deal of experience in the WHL to our players.”
Priestner had high praise for Mitch Love following his stint as assistant coach of the Everett Silvertips. “His teams have been extremely hard working, disciplined and accountable and we believe he will being a ton of passion to our team as we look to take the next step as a club.”
Love had been an assistant coach in Everett since the 2011-12 season. At just 34 years old, he quickly became one of the leagues youngest head coaches.
The general manager was not done there, he spent the summer trying to improve the roster in hopes of advancing his team to the post-season.
He acquired Dorrin Luding from the Seattle Thunderbirds to act as back up to Nolan Maier. The 19-year-old has seen action in 11 games and has performed well with a 2.90 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.
For two draft picks, Priestner acquired Riley McKay from the Spokane Chiefs. The 19-year-old product of Swan River, MB has already surpassed his season high point total of 13.
To recover some draft picks a deal was made to send Logan Doust to the Victoria Royals. That deal led to another trade, the Blades bringing in veteran defenseman Brandon Schuldhaus from the Moose Jaw Warriors for a second round pick and a fifth round pick. Schuldhaus has since put up 20 points from the blue line and been a leader for the Blades.
Priestner continued to be one of the most active general managers in the WHL this season with deals to bring in Zach Huber, Gary Haden, Nolan Kneen and Cyle McNabb. There was also the trade for Reece Harsch and a blockbuster with Portland for Ryan Hughes.
Overall the team made 11 different trades since the first of September.
And yet the team is one of the least talked about in the entire Western Hockey League.
You also can’t forget about the players who were with the Blades over the last few seasons. Players like 2019 NHL Draft Eligible Kirby Dach. He’s “only” put up 50 points in 47 games. Also what about Dawson Davidson, second leading scorer among all defensemen? He’s a point per game player.
It could very well be that they are in the same division as the Canadian Hockey League’s number one ranked team for the entire season in the Prince Albert Raiders.
It could also be that the fans in Saskatoon are taking a “wait and see” approach.
Little do they know that the Blades have put together one of their finest seasons in some time. The team is on pace to collect 90 points in the regular season which is their best since the 2012-13 season, when they hosted the Memorial Cup. It also marks a 16-point improved over last year.
And they have played the CHL number one team tightly all season. Prince Albert certainly does own the better record at 3-0-1-0 but three of the four games were within less than three goals. And the Raiders have an 18 point lead in the standings.
If the Blades can continue to gel as a team and continue their recent string of success, chances are you will see them have a deep run in the WHL playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Don’t count them out. If anyone deserves it, it is the citizens of Saskatoon who have not seen playoff hockey since the Memorial Cup hosting season of 2012-13.
Also, watch out, the team is expected to compete for the East division title in 2019-2020.