With optimism in the air surrounding a new WHL season in Saskatoon, it was the Blades proving they aren’t the team of years previous with an emphatic 8-0 win over the Swift Current Broncos Saturday night at Sasktel Centre.
All the talk entering the season was about this squad coming of age to push for a playoff spot after five long years of missing out on the post-season. The Blades certainly backed up the hype Saturday, dominating the game from the opening puck drop.
Blades head coach Mitch Love thinks this team can do great things this season, but even he didn’t expect an offensive onslaught quite like this.
“Definitely not,” he said when asked about the large margin of victory. “I thought our guys after the first five minutes were a bit sluggish, but we found our legs and started to really establish our forecheck.”
After those first five minutes, the night belonged to Kirby Dach.
The Blades standout talent is projected to be a top-10 draft pick in next year’s NHL Entry Draft. He proved the projections right on Saturday with a three goal and two assist outburst, starting with an attempted pass that deflected into the net on the Blades first powerplay.
“We’ve got a confident group in the dressing room,” Dach said following his first career hat trick. “We got a lot of talent, a lot of skill and a lot of hard work and grit in there too.”
“I think it kind of took over tonight.”
After Dach’s opening marker, Max Gerlach turned and fired a shot from the left dot after relentless forechecking by Dach and Eric Florchuk to beat Swift Current goaltender Joel Hofer for the Blades second goal in one minute thirty three seconds.
Bradly Goethals and Dawson Davidson added two more powerplay goals before the end of the period to put the Blades up 5-0 at the intermission.
Suddenly, Love’s biggest challenge was keeping his players hungry for a win.
“As soon as we walked into the coaches office, the first thing we said was ‘Alright, we gotta keep these boys in check,'” Love said. “It becomes a mental mindset battle for those young men.”
After the first period, the Blades ramped up the defensive effort, not allowing the Broncos any time or space with the puck.
The only question the 6,637 spectators had on their mind was if Blades goaltender Nolan Maier would be able to preserve the shutout. He did, stopping all 17 shots sent his way.
Riley McKay and Jackson Caller would score the other Blades goals. Florchuk ended the game with three assists, Gerlach had a goal and two assists, while Davidson chipped in with a goal and two assists as well.
Saskatoon racked up four powerplay goals on six attempts Saturday for another sign of change after the 2017 squad struggled with producing on the powerplay.
It’s the first time since 2011 the Blades started a season 2-0. Even though that stat might get fans excited for more big victories, Love and his coaching staff aren’t looking into it all that much.
“As a staff, we don’t overly concern ourselves on where we’re at right now,” he said. “Were we good today? Yeah, but we got to be good tomorrow too, if we want to be a successful hockey team.”