Memorial Cup host Saskatoon is struggling

Trouble is brewing in Toon Town.

The Saskatoon Blades are the host team for this season’s Memorial Cup. But it’s a month into the season and the Blades are looking nothing like a team capable of contending for major-junior hockey’s grandest prize.

“It’s not going to fix itself,” overage winger Adam Kambeitz told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. “We’ve got to try to stay positive as much as possible and try to push forward.”

Saskatoon, as the host team, receives an automatic bid to the Memorial Cup, which pits the host team along with the champions of the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in a round-robin tournament to determine the Canadian Hockey League’s premier team.

However, heading into the week the Blades were 4-7-0-0 and in last place in the East Division with a .364 winning percentage. Saskatoon’s minus-17 goal differential was the worst in the league. And the Blades only reached that point thanks to wins against Lethbridge and Medicine Hat over the weekend.

Saskatoon finds itself in this situation despite making significant moves during the offseason — bringing in point-per-game forwards Brendan Walker and Shane McColgan from Brandon and Kelowna, respectively — and being the oldest team in the league with 11 19-year-olds.

Then there was the odd handling of the team’s captains. Defenseman Duncan Siemens was Saskatoon’s captain last season, when the Blades finished second in the East Division. However, the Blades coaching staff named Walker captain, despite the fact he’d hardly been with the team. Then they allowed Walker to select the alternates. Siemens was not among them.

Is the panic button about to be pushed? Saskatoon already made one significant trade since the season began, acquiring Kambeitz from Red Deer. That forced the team to release overage defenseman Connor Cox, who was subsequently picked up by the Everett Silvertips. Speculation is that if the Blades continue to struggle, more deals will be on the way.

Everett receives a first-hand look at what’s going on in Saskatoon when the Tips finish off their six-game swing through the East Division on Saturday.

Around the WHL

Everett winger Lucas Grayson was suspended by the league for a length to be determined for his checking-to-the-head major penalty taken against Regina on Saturday. … Tri-City cleared up its overager situation by sending winger Jordan Messier to Moose Jaw in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2014 bantam draft. The Americans also traded 19-year-old defenseman Sam Grist to Kamloops in exchange for a third-round bantam pick in 2013 and a fifth rounder in 2014. … Prince Albert lost 20-year-old defenseman Antoine Corbin when Corbin signed a contract with the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs. … Vancouver acquired 20-year-old winger Kale Kessy from Medicine Hat in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2015 bantam draft. Kessy fills the overage roster slot that opened up after the Giants released defenseman John Niebrandt. … Red Deer traded for 17-year-old forward Austin Ferguson, sending a sixth-round pick in 2013 to Kelowna in exchange. … Kamloops’s JC Lipon was named the WHL Player of the Week for the second consecutive week. The 19-year-old forward had six goals and four assists as the Blazers went 3-0.

League leaders

Points — JC Lipon (Kamloops) 22; goals — Sam Fioretti (Moose Jaw) 10; assists — Lipon 13; penalty minutes — Ryley Miller (Brandon) 32; wins — Cole Cheveldave (Kamloops), Luke Siemens (Prince Albert), Eric Comrie (Tri-City) 6; goals against average — Cam Lanigan (Portland), Mac Carruth (Portland) 1.00; save percentage — Carruth .963.

Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.

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