Shockers Dealt Tough Loss Amid Tight West Race

At the midway point of the season, both the East and West divisions are more competitive than usual.  Four clubs in each division have a real shot at the playoffs; on the flip side, no team is so dominant that their postseason trip is essentially certain.  It’s anybody’s game, and that’s exciting for the fans, as almost every game has potential playoff ramifications.

On the other hand, it can be frustrating for the teams, especially when stretches of strong play don’t create any separation in the standings.  And when a team suffers a particularly tough loss, it stings even more knowing that the line between making the playoffs and watching them on TV appears so thin.

Just ask the Saskatchewan Shockers.  Under the guidance of new coach Morris Thompson, they’re playing smart, strong, disciplined hockey.  They’ve posted their best first-half record ever.  And yet, they’re mired in fourth place, remaining close but agonizingly far for a playoff spot.  Sasktchewan’s precarious position made Thursday’s mystifying loss, in which they played well against the Hershey Bliss only to lose in a 5-0 blowout, a truly bitter pill to swallow.

“I know it’s weird to say this about a game we lost by 5, but I thought we were the better team in a lot of the game,” said Shockers LW Troy Chamberlain.  “This game was just really weird.”

It’s hard to say whether Chamberlain’s claim that Saskatchewan was “the better team” holds water, but they definitely dominated the first period.  The Shockers came out firing, dictating the pace of play.  Aided by a pair of power plays, they outshot the Bliss 19-11.  “I thought we should have been up 2-0 or 3-0 after that,” said Chamberlain.

Instead, the game remained scoreless, thanks to Hershey goalie Brandon Colt.  He isn’t usually considered among the league’s top goalies, but he played like one on Thursday.  He made a dramatic kick-out save on a power-play blast by Chamberlain, bringing the crowd at Chocolate Center to its feet.  He also made a brilliant stop in the closing minutes of the period, robbing C Elliott Rafferty on a breakaway.  The Shockers also suffered some poor luck; on their two power plays in the period, they rang three shots off the posts.

Saskatchewan again got the better of the play to start the second, only to see Colt stymie them again and again.  Just after the nine-minute mark of the period, the Shockers got their third power play of the night when Bliss C Vance Ketterman was whistled for cross-checking.  Saskatchewan failed to convert yet again, managing only one shot, and the momentum seemed to shift toward the home team.

The game remained scoreless until late in the second.  With 2:31 remaining, Hershey RW Noah Daniels deflected a blast from D Steve Cargill and bounced it past Shockers goalie Zeke Zagurski into the net.  It was a fluke goal, but after seeing so many of their shots stopped, spirits sagged on the Saskatchewan bench.

“We couldn’t understand how we were losing when we’d played so much better,” said Rafferty.

In the third, the Shockers pushed hard in the early going, only to come up empty yet again.  Bliss C Justin Valentine banged home a rebound just until 7 minutes in to make it 2-0.  D Bruce Minnik went to the sin bin a couple minutes later, giving Saskatchewan its fourth power play of the game.  By this time, the Shockers were stressing out, shanking shots left and right and missing out on quality chances.

Twenty second after the power play ended, Bliss LW Lance Sweet and RW Christopher Hart broke out on an odd-man rush, and Hart beat Zagurski to give Hershey a three-goal edge.

The dam seemed to burst after that; the Shockers all but gave up, and Hershey scored twice more before the game mercifully ended.

The frustration in the Shockers locker room was palpable after the game.  Rafferty, who was denied at least three times by brilliant Colt saves, smashed his stick to pieces against his stool.  Zagurski opted for a different approach; he went into the shower with his equipment still on, sitting in soaked silence.

To make matters worse, the three teams ahead of Saskatchewan in the West standings (Michigan, Seattle, and Anchorage) all lost, costing the Shockers a rare chance to gain ground.

“In any season, there’s always going to be a few games you wish you could have back,” said Thompson.  “But this one was a knife to the gut.  When you get a 6-0 edge in power plays, you really need to win it.  This one really stings.”

Game 31, Saskatchewan @ Hershey, Chocolate Center

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Saskatchewan       0   0   0        0
Hershey            0   1   4        5

Saskatchewan           G   A PTS PIM +/-   Hershey                G   A PTS PIM +/-

Chamberlain     LW     0   0   0   0  -2   Sweet           LW     0   2   2   0   2
Oflyng          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Milton          D      0   0   0   2   1
Karlsson        C      0   0   0   0  -2   Valentine       C      1   0   1   0   2
Barnes          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Baldwin         D      0   2   2   2   2
Jabril          RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Hart            RW     1   0   1   0   2
McLearen        LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Nahorniak       LW     0   1   1   0   1
Cox             D      0   0   0   0  -2   Meloche         D      0   0   0   0   2
Rafferty        C      0   0   0   0  -1   Kirkpatrick     C      0   0   0   2   1
Blacklett       D      0   0   0   0  -2   Cargill         D      0   1   1   2   2
Kucharov        RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Montrechere     RW     1   0   1   0   1
Soforenko       LW     0   0   0   0  -2   Danielsen       LW     0   1   1   0   2
Rohrman         D      0   0   0   0  -2   Aubin           D      0   1   1   0   1
Perignon        C      0   0   0   0  -2   Daniels         RW     1   1   2   0   2
Stevens         RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Minnik          D      1   0   1   2   2
Nistrumov       D      0   0   0   0  -2   Ketterman       C      0   0   0   2   2
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 0   0   0   0  -5   TOTALS                 5   9  14  12   5

SAS:  Eberhardt, Bradshaw, Clark
HSY:  Kulkarov, Chappelle, Lapointe

Saskatchewan        SH    SV    G    Sv%
Zagurski            40    35    5  0.875

Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
Colt                41    41    0  1.000


First Period


04:04  HSY  Baldwin 2:00 (Tripping)
18:31  HSY  Milton 2:00 (High-sticking)

Second Period

17:29  HSY  Daniels (Cargill, Baldwin)

09:17  HSY  Ketterman 2:00 (Cross-checking)

Third Period

06:50  HSY  Valentine (Aubin, Sweet)
11:29  HSY  Hart (Sweet)
11:49  HSY  Minnik (Daniels, Danielsen)
16:12  HSY  Montrechere (Nahorniak, Baldwin)

09:06  HSY  Minnik 2:00 (Elbowing)
13:02  HSY  Kirkpatrick 2:00 (High-sticking)
16:37  HSY  Cargill 2:00 (Tripping)

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Saskatchewan      19  11  11       41
Hershey           10  15  15       40


Saskatchewan     0 for 6
Hershey          0 for 0



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