Saskatoon, SK – It was a rough night for the Saskatoon Blades at SaskTel Centre falling 7-2 to the top team in the Western Conference, the Victoria Royals. The score doesn’t exactly tell the tale of the game in which the Blades out shot the Royals 40-26, and shut down one of the best power play units in the league on three of four chances. Saskatoon now sits at 3-7-1-0 on the season and find themselves searching for answers heading into a weekend against another two heavyweights in the Swift Current Broncos and Brandon Wheat Kings.
The Victoria Royals opened the scoring on their first shot. A 2-on-1 developed heading into the Blades’ defensive zone. Evan Fiala, the lone defensemen back to help Ryan Kubic, made an excellent play to whack a pass out of midair between the two rushing Royals. However the Royals were first to the loose puck as it fell back on the ice and were able to complete a cross crease pass with Dante Hannoun collecting the goal 1:27 into the match.
The second Royals goal came after their tender, Griffen Outhouse, made a huge splitting leg save on a Cameron Hebig breakaway opportunity. At 6:46, Regan Nagy sniped his first of the night short-side on Ryan Kubic from just outside the crease.
With 1:48 left in the first, Victoria made it 3-0 as a rebound from Kubic’s initial save on Yan Khomenko then bounced wide to an unmarked Nagy, who then collected his second of the night past a desperate and sprawling Kubic. The first period finished with a score of 3-0 Royals despite the shot count favouring the Blades 16-11.
With the Gage Ramsay-Kirby Dach-Josh Paterson line getting into a groove toward the start of the second period, the Blades were putting pressure on the Royals. Unfortunately however, a freak bounce on a mis-played pass cost the Blades. Down low, Dach attempted to play the puck up high to Paterson but instead the puck went through his legs. It then bounced off the boards by the benches and straight to a late changing player from Victoria. The fortunate player, Jared Legien, went in all alone on Kubic and dangled it home for the Royal’s fourth goal of the night at 4:43.
Later, a pass to a streaking Royal behind the Blades’ defence connected, leading to another breakaway opportunity for the Royals. Nagy, the recipient, skated in and put the puck home through Kubic’s 5-hole at 11:53, completing his hat-trick for the night. After the play, Kubic was replaced by backup net minder Joel Grzybowski, his first appearance since the 6th of October.
On an almost identical play but this time on the power play, Victoria once again found their streaking forward behind Saskatoon’s defenders. This time on the breakaway it was Tyler Soy collecting the goal, scoring blocker side on Grzybowski at 15:09.
With 3:40 left in the second, the Blades finally found the back of the net. Dancing along the blueline and then eventually throwing it on the net, Libor Hájek collected an assist as Dryden Michaud tucked in his first goal of the season in the blue paint. Josh Paterson had the secondary assist on the play.
The period finished with Saskatoon’s power play unit giving up a short handed goal to Matthew Phillips of Victoria. Phillips used his speed to get around the Blades’ blueliners and create a one on one opportunity with Gryzbowski. It appeared Grzybowski had made the initial save and the puck was only hit in after play was whistled dead, but upon video review it was deemed to be a good goal counting at 19:16. The Blades went into the second intermission trailing the Royals 7-1 on the scoreboard but leading them in shots 29 to 18.
Paterson got the Blades’ second of the night to start the third period on a high note. After Gage Ramsay played the puck around the the zone and back to the blueline, Jackson Caller threw a wrist-shot on the fresh Dean McNabb who had just replaced Outhouse in Victoria’s net. McNabb made the save but spilled the puck out front where Paterson collected the puck before wrapping it around the Royals’ tender at 4:37 and setting the score at 7-2 Royals.
Saskatoon will have to find a way to shake this one off and build back some confidence heading into Swift Current on Friday, where they will look for their first win against the Broncos this season in the 3rd episode of the two division rivals. The Blades will then return home on Saturday to welcome the Brandon Wheat Kings for the first time this season.