February 24, 2009
Blades get down to business
By SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA
Most WHL players dread the bus.
Spending countless hours on the road, trying to sleep in cramped quarters.
It can take its toll on a team.
Unless you're the Saskatoon Blades.
The Blades have flourished on the road this season. Their 25-5-1 record (.823) away from home is No. 1 in the league.
Blades captain Derek Hulak said his club takes pride in its road record.
"We have a lot of confidence on the road," Hulak said. "That's one thing we like doing -- taking points out of other teams' barns.
"It's always a nice feeling when you can quiet a crowd down."
The Blades have already established a franchise record for road victories, and they've got five more chances to pad their numbers before the regular season ends.
Hulak, whose 65 points leads the team, said the Blades keep things simple in opposing teams' rinks.
"We play a simple game," Hulak said. "We chip pucks in deep and we're one of the best cycling teams in the league.
"When we stick to our principles, we're pretty tough to beat."
With a winning percentage of over .800 on the road, you'd think the home record would be pushing .900.
But the Blades are 'only' 19-10-2-1 (.641) at Saskatoon's Credit Union Centre.
"It's tough to put your finger on why the road record is better than the home record," Hulak said. "You'd think it would be the other way around.
"For us, we started winning on the road right away and built confidence. It's to the point now where we go into other teams' barns expecting to win.
"It could just be lack of focus when you're in your own bed at home. Whatever it is, we have to figure it out here going down the home stretch."
Goaltender Braden Holtby has been a major reason behind the squad's road success.
Tied for the league-lead with a half-dozen shutouts, Holtby said the only people his teammates are trying to impress are each other.
"We're a hard-working team," Holtby said. "We stick to our systems and when we're on the road, there's no one to impress, so we can stick to our hard work and grinding guys down low."
Road trips often allow teammates to spend more time together.
Holtby said the Blades have developed unity and chemistry as they travelled around Western Canada.
"We're a tight-knit group," he said. "We're all best friends. Bus trips are fun. We look forward to them because we get to hang out with each other and live with each other.
"That's the biggest thing: We have fun on the road and it translates into success. It's huge, especially getting the younger guys mixed in with the older guys. There's fun team-building stuff that you do.
"I like the road because it's like pro hockey. You get to live with your best friends and that's the best thing about being on the road."
The Blades are looking to lock up the Eastern Division, which would include the second seed throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"We have Brandon nipping at our heels," Hulak said.
"We have a big three-game series with them coming up. If we do finish up with that second seed, it would be nice. But we'll have to find a way to win at home come playoff time."