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Two months between wins and more than 50 days away from playing a game that mattered - the Saskatoon Blades now feel like they have arrived at the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup....
The host Blades captured their first victory at the tournament with a 5-2 win over the QMJHL champion Halifax Mooseheads. Matej Stransky scored the first two goals to pace the Blades (1-1). Josh Nicholls, Collin Valcourt and Darren Dietz added singles. Stephen MacAulay and Nathan MacKinnon replied for Halifax (1-1).
"It was game that was full of emotion," said Blades Coach Lorne Molleken. "Going into it, we knew that we needed to win a hockey game. Our players played with that sense of urgency here tonight.
The atmosphere inside the Credit Union Centre before the puck dropped Sunday was reminiscent of many recent Memorial Cup tournaments when the home team is involved. It was much louder that what seemed like a nervous crowd during Friday's tournament opener.
Just past the 12-minute mark, the crowd was rewarded when Matej Stransky opened the scoring. The home crowd showed their appreciation by sending the Blades to the room with a standing ovation with a one-goal lead after the first period.
Late in the second period, just as a Stransky penalty expired, he was sent in alone and beat Mooseheads goalie Zach Fucale for his second goal of the night - bringing the excited crowd back to its feet. "I just came from the penalty box and the puck was there. So I just kind of get on the horse, I saw the room there on the top-shelf, so I put it there," explained Stransky of his second goal.
"It was a great feeling, but it was a team effort, we just feel amazing right now." We just want to keep going, it was only one game. We still have one more left in the round-robin."
The Blades would open up a four-goal lead on goals by Valcourt and Dietz. The Mooseheads looked to mount a comeback when MacAulay and MacKinnon cut the deficit to two goals with 11 minutes remaining, but that was as close as Halifax would come before Nicholls sealed it with an empty net goal.
The dynamic duo of MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin was limited to just one point in the game - MacKinnon's goal. "For the most part, I thought our guys did a real good job staying above the puck," added Molleken. "(We were) making sure we weren't being outnumbered through the neutral zone - that they had to go through a couple lines of defence."
Local fans celebrated the win by littering the ice with plastic "clapper" noisemakers, and even a folding chair found its way onto the ice. There may been a lot of pent of energy considering it was Saskatoon's first win since March 12th, and first post-season victory since 2011.
The Mooseheads played on consecutive nights after winning their opener against Portland Saturday. "I thought they played with more energy than us, and desperation. We started playing that way...when it was 4-0," said Mooseheads Coach Dominque Ducharme.
"They felt maybe their backs were more against the wall, they reacted. You have to give them credit, they battled hard. You look at the goals that were scored, three of them were battles in front of the net on loose pucks and rebounds."
The Blades have two days off before wrapping up the round-robin Wednesday against the Portland Winterhawks (0-1). Portland faces the OHL champion London Knights (1-0) Monday night. A win by Portland in either game would assure a tie-breaker game will be necessary Thursday. Halifax plays their final round-robin game Tuesday against London.
-Hockey Hall of Fame member and Stanley Cup champion Bryan Trottier, a Saskatchewan native, took part in the ceremonial face-off.
-Many fans commented about empty seats at Credit Union Centre on social media. While they were seen on TV, there were numerous fans sitting in the upper bowl, away from TV cameras. The arena was built with the hopes of hosting an NHL team. The crowd numbers to this point of the tournament are similar to the 2003 Memorial Cup held in Quebec. Both arena have similar capacity.
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