KEEN: BLAZERS GET 3 of 4 POINTS ON WEEKEND
Three of a possible four points….
The Blazers first two-game leg of their east division swing is in the books and there is a sense of accomplishment…despite giving away a point in Prince Albert in a 6-5 shootout loss to open.
Head Coach Don Hay addressed the team in the final full practice before getting the sked started in Prince Albert. The message…”play hard… play heavy and let’s get to work.”
We see a lot of this on the trip… a clear, full sky with the sun low on the horizon. This is highway 11 North from Saskatoon to Prince Albert…where the six game trip all begins.
The Blazers know they are in for a scrappy game with the Raiders. They find ways to hang around and get points. While not the most skilled club, they never go away… and that would be pretty much the story line in the evening ahead.
A familiar scene. The weather is mild, the bus pulls over at the arena entrance. It’s a nice walk up to the rink.
One thing about Don Hay… he’s always teaching. Always. With the team arriving about two hours, 30 minutes prior to the game, there’s an opportunity for a little Raiders history lesson. He takes the team down the hallway of pictures from years past. “Find me Dave Manson and point out Mike Modano” he asks. Both #4 and #9 hang in the rafters in P.A.
I’m interviewing Marc Habscheid just down the way… “that’s Don,” he says.
The Blazers start fast and push the pace… but the Raiders just won’t go away. A couple foggy mistakes in the Blazer zone in the third period had Prince Albert tie it up twice as they rallied back from 4-2 and 5-4. It appeared Connor Zary snapped home the winner with 5:20 to play… but the Raiders promptly tied it. The Blazers pushed the pace in an entertaining overtime session, but couldn’t finish. The Raiders eventually won in a shootout. Despite being 8th in the Eastern Conference, it was the seventh time in the last eight games the Raiders picked up at least a point.
The point for the Blazers is of little consolation.
One of the best parts of being on the road is meeting up with the Blazer family both past and present. This was a Christmas goodies gift from Joni & Brent Ingram.
“Once a Blazer, always a Blazer,” said Connor’s dad Brent during an intermission interview. The tin of chocolate chip cookies included a nice a card from the Ingram family. A really thought out, and heartfelt note from the family. Good people. It was nice to see them at a game.
I texted Connor after the game…he told us to enjoy his grandma’s baking. We did!
The next day… Saturday, and it’s another game day. It’s the Blades in Saskatoon. The Blazers have had recent success against the Blades. They haven’t lost here since 2009… and the feeling I had during the day told me that streak was going to be safe.
“We don’t lose in this rink,” I declared to G Dylan Ferguson as the team unloaded gear at the Sask-Tel Centre after the game in Prince Albert.
“Ok,” he replies confidently.
Sure enough, the Blazers set the tone early. Hitting everything. When Jermaine Loewen steamrolled their captain minutes in and then had a lopsided scrap with Jackson Caller for the hit… it told me the “J-Train” was running on time, and it was going to run all night long.
Those early hits paid dividends. It led to turnovers and numerous chances in and around the Blades net. The guys weren’t going to be denied, and you could see that early in this one.
Garrett Pilon ices the game with a late empty-netter. A nice little nugget for the Saskatoon native in front of a large contingent.
I see Jermaine in the hallway underneath. “They haven’t seen anything like you out here Jermaine,” He gives me that trademark grin.
“You were right,” said Ferguson afterwards. He had a tidy 25 save night and was playing with that swagger we see when he’s on.
The guys are excited, the coaching staff pleased with the heavy game. Saskatoon media members said the Blazers “bullied their way to the win,”. Not literally, but a clean hard hitting start definitely titled the scales in the Blazer favour.
It’s always great to see former Blazers… and a trio was there to greet the guys after the game. From left to right: Taran Kozun, Collin Shirley, and Logan McVeigh. All three are with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. McVeigh was named to the USports all-star team who will take on Canada’s World Junior team in some pre-tournament tune-up action out east. They were having fun, and enjoyed seeing some of their former teammates and vice-versa.
Saskatoon native Connor Zary is a popular game post game at Boston Pizza.
We are down the road just as quick, bound for Regina for the second leg of the trip. It’s a late 2am arrival at the Brandt Centre. It’s a precarious unload down the steps.
We’re back to the hotel… lights out soon. Two days away from the next game action, and a good team mood to ride until the game in Brandon Tuesday night. Over and out.