Gary Haden is having a week to remember.
For the second game in a row, it was Haden leading the Saskatoon Blades to victory, this time by a score of 3-2 over the Brandon Wheat Kings Friday at Sasktel Centre.
Unlike Tuesday’s performance when he scored five points in a 6-2 win, Haden turned Saskatoon’s fortune upside down, scoring with 4 seconds remaining in the game to stun Brandon and steal a point in the standings.
“When you’re lucky, you’re lucky,” Haden said. “And I’ll keep riding this (streak) as long as it keeps going.”
“I’m gonna keep the stick I’m using. I’m not using that one in practice or anything. I can’t afford to have this one break.”
After an even game through two periods, it was Brandon taking advantage of Saskatoon. The team sent 18 shots on net compared to Saskatoon’s five, and forced Blades goaltender Nolan Maier into a handful of sprawling saves to give his team a fighting chance.
With Brandon showing no signs of slowing down its relentless attack, Josh Paterson took control of the puck inside the Wheat Kings blueline, turned and fired a shot at the net. Haden was able to deflect the puck on net before it ricocheted off of the Wheat Kings’ Cole Reinhardt and into the net for the last second victory.
“Just how we drew it up,” Blades head coach Mitch Love said in jest after the game before becoming highly critical of his team’s performance.
“We got really lucky tonight, in my opinion. The other team probably deserved a better fate and our guys understand that… we strayed away from what’s made us successful to this point in the year and (Brandon) took total advantage.”
For his efforts, Maier was the standout performer of the night, denying everything that came his way, ending the night with 33 saves.
“That was about as solid of a performance I’ve seen out of the man all year,” Love said of his goaltender. “He was strong in every facet of his game. If we’re without him tonight, we would have zero points and (Brandon) would have two over there.”
Rather than head to overtime and have both teams earn one point, Maier was crucial to holding down the lead in the waning minutes of the third period.
“We can thank him for that one for sure,” Haden said. “He really bailed us out. I’ve been on a few successful teams, and on every successful team you have a good goalie.”
Brandon was first to score Friday. After Blades forward Eric Florchuk broke his stick trying to gain the Wheat Kings’ blue line. Brandon quickly turned the puck up ice and cashed in on the three-on-one as Ridly Greig cleanly slotted the puck into the Blades net.
Saskatoon answered back less than three minutes later as Brandon Machado scored his second goal of the year, deflecting a Dawson Davidson wrist shot at the mouth of the goal.
Josh Paterson would give the Blades its first lead of the game with 4:09 remaining in the period as his harmless looking wrist shot deflected of a Wheat Kings’ stick and fluttered over Brandon Wheat Kings goaltender Ethan Kruger and into the net.
Saskatoon looked to take a 3-1 lead in the final second of the first period during a five-on-three powerplay. Haden slipped a pass to Kirby Dach as he skated through the Brandon goal crease and appeared to be upended by an opponent as he crashed the net, but Haden was instead assessed a goaltender interference penalty and a 10-minute misconduct.
The Wheat Kings evened the game at 2-2 when Linden McCorrister took advantage of an ill-timed turnover by the Blades, skated the whole length of the ice and then neatly accepted a pass and beat Maier for the shorthanded tally.
Saskatoon will travel to Brandon Saturday for both teams’ final game before the league-mandated Christmas break. Saskatoon returns to Sasktel Centre on Dec. 28 to play the Prince Albert Raiders.