The Saskatoon Blades and Medicine Hat Tigers were having so much fun at Sasktel Centre Saturday evening neither team wanted to leave.
At least that’s how it seemed as the game was decided on the 20th shot of the shootout, with the Saskatoon Blades escaping with a 4-3 win.
“To be honest with you, we practiced it once in the last month which was the other day,” Blades head coach Mitch Love said. “Here’s Riley McKay, who nobody probably would have thought would find a way.”
Enter Blades tough guy, recently acquired from the Spokane Chiefs, in the 10th round of the shootout with the game on his stick.
The thought of McKay saving the game for his team began to creep up on the veteran.
“When it was getting that late, I was thinking that maybe I’d get to go,” McKay said.
He comforted the crowd at Sasktel Centre by looking like a seasoned sniper. McKay skated up the wing before quickly deking and sneaking a shot past the Tigers’ Mads Sogaard, a six-foot-seven Dane making his first career WHL start.
It was only McKay’s second shootout attempt and conversion of his career. The winning shot might have given him some extra confidence.
“I’ll be staring (Love) down on the bench next shootout.”
Saskatoon returned to the ice after a week off, and it’s all the Tigers would need to take advantage and build a lead.
Blades head coach Mitch Love admired what he saw from his team, just not in the first forty minutes of the game.
“I thought we looked like a team, especially early in the hockey game, that hadn’t played in seven days,” he said after a nerve-wracking shootout.
“But a little bit of credit to our guys, we seemed to find out legs a little bit in the third.”
The Tigers pounced on a sluggish Blades team to start the game.
Medicine Hat quickly got out to a 1-0 lead off a long, weak shot along the boards that got past Blades’ goaltender Nolan Maier.
After the Blades evened the game back up just a few minutes later, it was the Tigers’ James Hamblin scoring his second of the game on an errant Jackson Caller pass at his own blueline to beat Maier high on an open breakaway.
After a scoreless second period, Blades’ import Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen zipped a wrist shot past Sogaard to even it up once again.
The Tigers quickly responded after some suspect penalty calling by fooling Maier with another short-side shot on the powerplay.
But once again, the Blades refused to go down without a fight, scoring on a Max Gerlach powerplay marker with just over three minutes left.
“We were down three different times in the hockey game and it shows a little bit of the character and leadership in that room,” he said.
“Good teams find ways to win hockey games like that at times.”
Nolan Maier shook off a rough outing by shutting down the Tigers when it mattered most, stopping eight of the 10 shootout takers.
“Some of the goals I obviously want back — I can’t control those,” Maier said. “I felt like I did a really good job of forgetting about those and just focusing on the next one.”
“As it went later in to the game, it helped even more.”
The Blades hit the reset button with a five game and seven day road trip beginning in Prince Albert on Sunday.
Mitch Love likes what it could mean for his team.
“There’s two ways to look at it. We’ll find out real quick what kind of team we have in the eastern conference,” he said. “But also, just getting on the road with your team this time of year is never a bad thing.
“Get a little comradery within your group and make sure they’re spending time with each other on the bus and in the hotels.”