By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
Don’t look now, but the Saskatoon Blades are finally starting to look like a championship contender.
This year’s Memorial Cup hosts have finally found their form, and for the first time this season the Blades are looking worthy of competing for major-junior hockey’s greatest prize.
Saskatoon won its 15th straight game when it drubbed Moose Jaw 7-1 Saturday night. The 15-game winning streak is the longest in the WHL this season, surpassing the 14-game winning streaks strung together by Portland and Kamloops. The 15-game streak is also the longest in Saskatoon franchise history, bettering the team’s 13-game streak in 1987-88.
“Our players should be very proud of what they accomplished here tonight,” Saskatoon coach and general manager Lorne Molleken told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix after the Blades beat Brandon 7-4 Friday for their franchise-record 14th straight win. “To break a record that has been standing for that long is reward for them and they’re very deserving.”
Saskatoon had been the source of some hand-wringing throughout the league. The Blades spent much of the season hovering around the .500 mark and on the fringes of the playoff race, despite having the oldest team in the league. There were concerns about the possibility the Memorial Cup host team wouldn’t even qualify for the playoffs.
Saskatoon added even more veteran presence at the Jan. 10 trade deadline, but the trades didn’t seem to help initially as the Blades dropped five of seven following the trade deadline.
However, Saskatoon hasn’t lost since beating Moose Jaw 5-0 on Jan. 27. During that stretch the Blades have outscored their opponents 77-25. The streak zoomed Saskatoon into first place in the East Division, seven points ahead of longtime division leader Prince Albert. It also put the Blades in position for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed for the first round of the playoffs.
“We’ve had a little bit of a roller coaster ride,” Saskatoon defenseman Darren Dietz told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix after Friday’s win. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this point. I’m real excited for the group.”
Around the WHL
Kelowna lost two key players for the season as the Rockets announced 18-year-old forward Carter Rigby and 17-year-old defenseman Mitchell Wheaton, who were both out with shoulder injuries, will undergo season-ending surgeries. … Defenseman Spencer Morse has returned to Moose Jaw. The Warriors sent the 17-year-old, who was a second-round pick in the 2010 bantam draft, home for disciplinary reasons last week. … Tri-City’s Justin Feser was named the WHL Player of the Week. The 20-year-old forward had six goals and seven assists as the Americans went 3-0.
Points — Brendan Leipsic (Portland) 110; goals — Leipsic 44; assists — Leipsic 66; penalty minutes — Carter Proft (Spokane) 171; wins — Andrey Makarov (Saskatoon) 32; goals against average — Tristan Jarry (Edmonton) 1.69; save percentage — Patrik Bartosak (Red Deer) .933.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.