It is business as usual for Medicine Hat Tigers fans to bring brooms to the rink when their club faces the Saskatoon Blades in the playoffs. They swept the Bridge City Boys in 2006, 2012, and now again in 2013.
This year, however, is different from past seasons. The second-place Blades were expected to break their losing trend against the seventh-place Tigers. Instead, Saskatoon hardly put up a fight for the most part, making one question the Canadian Hockey League’s decision to anoint them the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts.
Besides Montreal Canadiens defensive prospect Darren Dietz, the Blades’ big guns disappointed. Dallas Stars prospect Matej Stransky, New York Rangers prospect Josh Nicholls, Calgary Flames prospect Michael Ferland and team captain Brenden Walker didn’t register a single goal. Colorado Avalanche first-rounder Duncan Siemens and Candiens second-rounder Dalton Thrower didn’t live up to expectations on the back end. Last but not least, Buffalo Sabres prospect Andrey Makarov wasn’t at his best, maintaining a .897 save percentage and a 3.66 average.
After game 3, Blades assistant coach Jerome Engele blamed his team’s woes on the players not following the game plan the bench bosses laid out.
"It took them 2½ games, roughly, to figure out they have to play the system they were asked to play," Engele told 92.9 The Bull following the loss. "When we finally started playing and following the system, we were getting control of the game. We were entering the zone with speed. The only thing we weren't doing is getting people in front of the net. We have to get more traffic.”
One has to give Medicine Hat credit, too. GM-head coach Shaun Clouston’s Tigers were simply the better team in every game of the series, outscoring the Blades 15-4. Their go-to one-two punch – Hunter Shinkaruk and Curtis Valk – led the offense, scoring two goals and four points apiece. In between the pipes, Cam Lanigan was sensational, posting a 1.00 average and a .962 save percentage.
Falling flat in the playoffs as the Memorial Cup host isn’t new territory for Blades GM-head coach Lorne Molleken. He was behind the bench for the Regina Pats in 2001 when they bowed out in the first round against the Calgary Hitmen in six games. Molleken’s Pats went on to lose out to the Val D’Or Foreurs in the semi-final.
The Blades have a 52-day break until they suit up in the Memorial Cup. One would think if they can’t beat the seventh-place team in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, they won’t have a shot against the CHL’s best. But stranger things have happened at the Memorial Cup.
Red Deer Rebels puck-stopper Patrick Bartosak was the Prince Albert Raiders’ Achilles heel in the series. The Czech Republic native only let five pucks get past him throughout the four games, maintaining a 1.25 average and a .962 save percentage.
Up front, Brooks Maxwell raised his game for the Rebels. The 6-foot, 174-pound winger scored three playoff goals after racking up 10 in 71 regular-season contests.
Heading back to the drawing board, the Raiders have evident cons, but also a lot of pros for next year. They will lose overage goaltender Luke Siemens, 25-goal scorer Anthony Bardaro, Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder Mark McNeill and Phoenix Coyotes second-rounder Harrison Ruopp in the offseason. But with German sensation Leon Draisaitl, Dallas Stars second-rounder Mike Winther, 2013 draft prospect Josh Morrissey, and 18-year-old centre Jayden Hart all set to return, it seems the Raiders should be back in the second season next year.
The Rebels will square off against the winner of the Swift Current Broncos-Calgary Hitmen series.
Rockets show life
Without their star captain Colton Sissons, the Kelowna Rockets dropped the first three games of their series against the seventh-place Seattle Thunderbirds. But game 4 was a different story with Kelowna coming away with a commanding 4-0 win.
Kelowna’s power play was the key to their win. Tyson Baillie scored two and Myles Bell added another on the power play in the first 20 minutes to give the Rockets a stranglehold on the game.
The Rockets and Thunderbirds meet for game 5 on Saturday, March 20 in Kelowna.
Baseball swings aren’t suspension worthy?
If the WHL uses precedents in their process of handing out suspensions, they now have one that suggests a baseball swing to the back of the legs at the end of a game isn’t worthy of a suspension after Blades’ Josh Nicholls did exactly that to Tigers’ Hunter Shinkaruk in game 3 of their series.
In an interview with Medicine Hat News reporter Darren Steinke, WHL vice-president Richard Doerksen claimed they didn’t handout a suspension because of Shinkaruk’s ‘embellishment.’
Nicholls received a major penalty for slashing and a game misconduct on the play triggering an automatic league review. On Wednesday, Richard Doerksen, the WHL vice-president of hockey, ruled the Nicholls would not be suspended, while reinforcing that the penalties called on the play were correct.
“I think on this one it certainly appeared to our supervisor at the game and our director of officiating and myself that there was perhaps some embellishment from the opponent,” said Doerksen. “That was definitely taken into consideration when determining whether there should be a suspension or not.”
How does one brace for a baseball swing to the back of the legs? Did the league expect Shinkaruk to stand firm when Nicholls wound up for a home run? It seems a little ridiculous for Doerksen to use ‘embellishment’ as an excuse for no suspension in this scenario.
Other playoff notes: the Calgary Hitmen are up 3-1 over the Swift Current Broncos…the Kootenay Ice are down 3-1 to the Edmonton Oil Kings...the Kamloops Blazers have a 2-1 lead on the Victoria Royals… the Everett Silvertips trail the Portland Winterhawks 2-1… the Tri-City Americans are down 2-1 against the Spokane Chiefs.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen