Blades rookies make important contribution

By Jamie Harkins

April 20, 2017 12:00 AM

FIGHTING FOR BLUE AND WHITE Jantzen Leslie tries to motivate the SaskTel Centre crowd in a March 3 Blades game versus the Kootenay Ice. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE HISCOCK/SASKATOON BLADES

“As a defenceman it takes a little bit more time to develop and get used to your role, so that’s why being a rookie (we) didn’t want to put him into situations that probably he wasn’t going to excel at.”
Leslie said the most difficult part of adjusting to the WHL game was the increased speed, size and strength of opponents faced compared to midget AAA hockey. He said playing in front of thousands of cheering fans at Saskatoon’s SaskTel Centre was also a bit different.
“Everett has some pretty wild and rowdy fans, but the first game at home this year we had the Thank You, Mr. Hockey night and that was one of the loudest games I’ve been in that’s for sure,” said Leslie. “We had the kids’ game where we played at 11:30 a.m. against Regina and that game was probably the loudest I’ve ever been a part of because it was, oh, I don’t know how many kids were there, but there wasn’t a free seat in the house and all the kids were screaming the whole time no matter what was going on. That was probably the most electric moment I’ve played a game of hockey in.”
The Blades fell 6-0 to the Swift Current Broncos in the Sept. 25 Gordie Howe memorial game and 2-1 against the Pats in the late January Team Up For Respect match.
In total, the club went 28-35-7-2 to finish five points back of the Calgary Hitmen for the final Eastern Conference wildcard playoff spot.
Brockman said the team lost about 300 man games to injury throughout the year with many of their top players, including 2015-16 point-producer Cameron Hebig who suffered a season-ending injury before the campaign even started, going down for extended periods of time. He said that forced them to use guys like Wouters in match-ups they normally wouldn’t.
“For the most part, I think with Chase he improved quite a bit,” said Brockman. “It was a long season for him based on the fact he would have played more games against more older guys throughout the whole year. Jantzen had some experience in being called up with us before and also playing in Everett. So, both guys did pretty well in their first year and we’re looking for them to take the next step for next season.”
Wouters noted the experience gained by all the rookie players on the young squad in 2016-17 should help them contend in future campaigns.
“We have the pieces we need,” added Leslie. “We have a bunch of guys to fill in different roles all along the way, so I wouldn’t necessarily call it a rebuilding team anymore. Even though we (didn’t) make the playoffs I think the rebuild is done. It’s time to make a push.”

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