Well-rested Saskatoon Blades squad set to begin all-Saskatchewan East final series

Click to play video: 'Rested Saskatoon Blades squad ready to face Moose Jaw in all-Saskatchewan Eastern Final'
Rested Saskatoon Blades squad ready to face Moose Jaw in all-Saskatchewan Eastern Final
WATCH: Needing just nine games to get through the first two rounds of WHL playoffs, the Saskatoon Blades will match up against the Moose Jaw Warriors in the first all-Saskatchewan Eastern Conference Final since 1993 – Apr 23, 2024

Generations of WHL players have passed through the league since the last time two Saskatchewan-based clubs faced each other in the Eastern Conference final series.

However in 2024, that streak will end as the Saskatoon Blades and Moose Jaw Warriors will do battle in the third round for the right to represent the conference in the WHL championship series.

“It’s two real good Saskatchewan teams playing against each other,” said Blades head coach Brennan Sonne. “It’s great for the province, it’s great for the cities. I eagerly await the series and it should be a lot of fun.”

The Blades have advanced to the Eastern Conference final for the second year in a row where they will face-off against Moose Jaw in a battle of the top two regular season clubs in the conference.

Unlike last year when the Blades fell in four straight games to the Winnipeg ICE, this year’s Saskatoon squad needed only nine games to reach the third round of playoffs compared to a pair of gruelling seven-game series in 2023.

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“I think last year we just used up our emotions,” said Sonne. “It was so tense, and comebacks, and seven-game series, and sellouts, and Connor Bedard, and, ‘Oh my God [winning] down from 3-0.’ Just all of our emotional bandwidth was used up and I just thought we were done physically and emotionally.

“This year with having the rest, the breaks, the time off and the practice time, there’s reserves in the tank emotionally and physically.”

Click to play video: 'Saskatoon Blades go for series sweep against Rebels in Red Deer for Game 4'
Saskatoon Blades go for series sweep against Rebels in Red Deer for Game 4

After defeating the Prince Albert Raiders in five games to open playoffs, the Blades were able to sweep the Red Deer Rebels in four games and earned a week of rest ahead of their third round series versus Moose Jaw.

Blades captain Trevor Wong said that will put them in a better place to compete, compared to the exhaustion they felt this time last year.

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“We were pretty worn out by the third round against a really good team last year in Winnipeg,” said Wong. “This year we accomplished our goals getting the series done as quickly as we could. We got as much rest as we could and we’re ready to go.”

Saskatoon clinched the series with a pair of dominant victories over the Rebels in Games 3 and 4, led by an otherworldly performance by Belarussian sniper Egor Sidorov.

Named WHL Player of the Week on Monday, Sidorov exploded for back-to-back hat-tricks and a five-point performance in Game 4 to help the Blades advance to the conference final.

“It’s all about the guys who I’m playing with,” said Sidorov. “Trevor Wong, [Brandon] Lisowsky, [Alexander] Suzdalev, [Easton] Armstrong, they’re smart guys who make smart plays. I just need to be somewhere on the ice to score.”

According to Sonne, Sidorov’s usage was dialed back as Game 4 progressed which made what he accomplished even more impressive.

“He was just doing things that was very difficult to stop,” said Sonne. “All of the five points was in about 12 minutes of ice time. We need guys like that, players like that to be Conn Smythes. If you get 20 Conn Smythes in a playoff series or a playoff run, you’re doing well.”

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Saskatoon will be facing their toughest test yet in the Warriors, who like the Blades have only suffered one loss in the playoffs so far after sweeping the Brandon Wheat Kings in the opening round before dispatching the Swift Current Broncos in five games.

Led by captain and WHL playoff leading scorer Denton Mateychuk, the Warriors added throughout the season to their core and now boast a roster that includes top-rated NHL prospects such as Jagger Firkus, Brayden Yager, Mateychuk and Matthew Savoie.

One of the WHL’s elite teams off the rush, they will test Saskatoon’s depth who are already without winger Tyler Parr due to injury and overage forward Easton Armstrong who will miss the first two games of the Saskatoon-Moose Jaw series while finishing serving a four-game suspension for charging Red Deer goaltender Chase Wutzke.

However, centre Fraser Minten said he’ll put up Saskatoon’s forward core against any team in the league.

“I think that’s where we have an advantage in the series, is our full team,” said Minten. “I think we play better than them as a full group, that’s what we’re going to have to rely upon and need contributions from everyone.”

The Blades and Warriors split their season series this year with each side winning three of six games in regulation.

If that trend holds, this series will be the longest and most intensive that either Saskatoon or Moose Jaw has faced yet this post-season.

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“We just got to play hard and smart,” said Sidorov. “Backcheck, forecheck, paycheque.”

Playing a major role in Saskatoon’s memorable playoff run last year, Wong added the atmosphere of the third round takes a significant leap and is determined to get the Blades back to the WHL Final for the first time since 1994.

“Everything is amplified,” said Wong. “There’s only two teams left in your conference and two on the other side. Win this one and you get a ticket to the dance.”

The Blades will host the Warriors for games 1 and 2 of the series on Friday and Saturday with 7:00 pm puck drops for both, before the series heads down the highway to Moose Jaw for games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

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