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Strong special teams create momentum for Saskatoon Blades

The Saskatoon Blades were ranked in the top five in both penalty kill and power play.
A strong penalty kill and power play have played a big role in the Saskatoon Blades’ success so far this season.

SASKATOON — Special teams have played a big role in the Saskatoon Blades’ success so far this season.

As of Tuesday, the squad was second in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference with a 20-5-0-0 record. The Blades were ranked in the top five in both penalty kill and power play.

“Special teams are important … We work on it,” Saskatoon assistant coach Wacey Rabbit said. “They guys who are out there take real pride on the penalty kill and the group on the power play – they work really hard. Brennan [Sonne, head coach] has done a good job preparing those guys and that’d kind of the calling card for our team – whether it’s five-on-five or special teams, we’re a hard-working group.”

As the Blades rank 17th out of the WHL’s 22 teams in penalty minutes (an average of 12.0 a game), they do not allow opponents many power play opportunities. When the opposing team has a man advantage, the Saskatoon squad makes it challenging. The Blades are second in the WHL with an 84.5 penalty kill percentage. The Calgary Hitmen lead the league with an 89.0 percentage.

“If you have a good penalty kill, that brings a lot of momentum to our team,” Rabbit said.

Of course, the best penalty killers are the goaltenders. This season the Blades boast two of the best in the league. Austin Elliott leads the WHL in goals against average at 1.75. Fellow Blades netminder Ethan Chadwick is third at 2.22. Elliott has the second-best save percentage in the WHL at .930. Chadwick is in the top 13 at .908.

Rabbit noted that with a big goal the power play can also bring momentum to a team. As of Tuesday, the Blades were ranked fifth in the WHL with a 26.2 power play percentage. The Portland Winterhawks pace the WHL with a 28.7 power play percentage.

With the man advantage, the Blades are scoring by committee. They do not have any of the top 20 power play goal scorers in the league. However, Jayden Wiens is 24th and Brandon Lisowsky is 31st with five power play goals each. Egor Sidorov has lit the lamp four times with the man advantage, while Conner Roulette and Justin Lies have three apiece.

Each player has their job to do on the power play unit. For example, Lies is often in front of the net.

“I’m trying to get screens,” he said. “Our defencemen are good at getting shots through so just trying to get sticks on pucks. … Hopefully we can keep the power play going.”

Defenceman Aidan De La Gorgendiere, the team’s captain, ranked seventh in the WHL with 13 power play assists. Forward Trevor Wong sits 17th in that category with 11. Roulette and defencemen Charlie Wright and Tanner Molendyk each have five power play assists.

A former Blades standout who had a long pro career, Rabbit said that success on the power play can help players in other areas.

“If things aren’t going right five-on-five, that’s where you can kind of get your game found again. Touch the puck and get your feet underneath you,” he said.

Chase Wheatcroft of the Prince George Cougars leads the WHL in power play goals with 12. Defenceman Stanislav Svozil of the Regina Pats paces the league in power play assists with 22.

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