Blades go from zeros to heroes

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

An average Western Hockey League regular season lasts about 180 days. Last season, the Saskatoon Blades won seven regular-season games, which means they tasted victory once every 26 days or so.

Winnipeg's Joe Barnes, 18, was a member of that team -- the worst in Canada -- and he sure heard about it during the summer.

"There was a fair bit of (teasing), but I was expecting that," Barnes said yesterday from Saskatoon. "It just motivated me to come into the training and take it that much more seriously and get ready to prove them wrong when the season started again."

Barnes and Co. have done just that. They have already more than doubled their win output and lead the East Division with a 16-6-5 record. Not only that, but they are tied with the Kelowna Rockets and Kootenay Ice for the WHL's best record.

"It feels 10 times better, sitting in first place in our division," said Barnes, who missed practice yesterday because of the flu. "It's quite the change and we're just happy to be playing and doing so well right now."

Puzzling in all of this is the Blades have 16 returnees this season, including leading scorer Ryan Keller, seven of eight defencemen and both netminders. The big difference, however, is that former NHL head coach Lorne Molleken is behind the bench and in the general manager's chair.

"Everything in the organization has taken a different direction from last year, which totally helps us out," Barnes said. "It's been a lot more fun coming to the rink on a daily basis."

DISASTER

Barnes, an 6-foot-3, 210-pound centre who played for the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League's Winnipeg Sharks three years ago, has 12 goals and 26 points in 27 games. He attributes some of his success to last year's disaster, during which he had only five goals and 17 assists in 58 games.

"Guys went home and really worked hard to come back and really help this team out a lot," he said. "That's how we came together. We were here two weeks before training camp even started. Guys were anxious to come back."

There are six more Manitobans playing for the Blades: D Tyler Boldt (Winnipeg), C Chris Cloud (Waywayseecappo), RW Ryan Menei (Winnipeg), D Dane Crowley (Winnipeg), D Dalyn Flatt (Teulon) and LW Jamison Orr (Winnipeg).

ICE CHIPS: The Manitoba Junior Hockey League has announced its November award winners, and they are: Neepawa's Dustin Norman (top player), Portage's Stefan Drew (top goaltender), Winkler's Matt Ostash (top rookie) and Swan Valley's Dave Grimson (top defenceman) ... This weekend's premier MJHL matchup takes place tonight in Neepawa, where the Natives will play host to the Winkler Flyers. Neepawa is tied with the Portage Terriers for the Sher-Wood Division lead, while the Flyers sit atop the Addison Division.


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