Blazers Build Off Experience Together
By Jonathan Yue via Hockey Canada
Before the Saskatoon Blazers took the ice for the championship game at the West Regional, Lee Shurgot couldn’t help but feel an extra sense of composure around the dressing room.
It had been five weeks since Shurgot, along with Corban Almen, Kash Andresen, Emerson Clark, Reese Hamilton, Cole Reschny and Brayden Smith skated with Team Saskatchewan at the 2023 Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island.
Although it didn’t end with the desired result – Saskatchewan dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker in double overtime to Ontario – the Blazers septet have been able to bring their big-game experience back to Saskatoon, leading to a dominant postseason run into the Men’s U18 National Club Championship.
“Making it to the Canada Winter Games final, having that tough loss, we moved forward from that, we know we can be better and know we can win,” Shurgot says. “We have all stepped up in the playoffs and turned it up coming into Saint-Hyacinthe.”
“It showed that we have to push ourselves every day,” Hamilton adds. “At the Winter Games, we had to play our best every game so bringing that back to Saskatchewan, it really helped us a lot. For myself, I need to do my best out on the ice and hopefully it leads to a team win.”
That experience came in handy during the regional tournament, with each player contributing in their own way. Having gone through high-pressure games on P.E.I., the Blazers came out on top, capturing the West Region banner with a 4-3 overtime win over the host Warman Wildcats.
“We felt we’ve been there before,” Shurgot says. “The ’07 group who played at Canada Winter Games had been in a similar situation before and I think it helped us.”
Continuing to bond throughout the Canada Winter Games and the playoffs, the Blazers have come to play for each other, and the added experience galvanized the team for the long run. Of the six players who made the trip to Saint-Hyacinthe, Almen did not make the trip due to an injury, they are coming onto the national championship stage confident in their team.
Reschny, who led the Blazers in scoring in the regular season and playoffs in the Saskatchewan Male AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL) noticed the team had more motivation going straight into the playoffs.
“Having the other guys together and going through that [Canada Games] experience, it definitely benefited all of us on the team and made us all hungrier to win a championship,” he says. “We had guys with a little more jump in their game and the rest of the team saw what we went through and everyone wanted to compete for each other.”
Clark echoes his teammate: “Everyone bonded really well throughout the season and after coming back from P.E.I, we really embraced the ’team before self‘ mentality.”
With a third of the Blazers getting the call to Prince Edward Island, the team had to adjust its regular-season schedule. Playing their last game on Feb. 14, the Blazers got the job done, locking up the top seed in the SMAAAHL.
As the youngest team in Saint-Hyacinthe, the Blazers – back at the national championship for the first time in 49 years – are bringing their momentum from their strong season and playoff run, the big-game experience from the Canada Winter Games and the bond of the team to the Men’s U18 National Club Championship. Reschny believes Saskatoon is ready to draw on those moments when the time comes.
“Our team is ready, I’m ready, and we’re all excited for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show what we can do,” Reschny says. “We’re going to give it our all and will have an opportunity to challenge for [gold].”