Ice punch ticket to WHL final with sweep of Blades


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In the end, it’s the Winnipeg Ice who stand on top of the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.

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In the end, it’s the Winnipeg Ice who stand on top of the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.

The top-seeded Ice staged a gritty effort on the road to earn a 3-2 victory and a 4-0 series sweep over the second-seed Saskatoon Blades in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final on Wednesday.

The triumph punched Winnipeg’s ticket to the WHL championship series for the first time since relocating to the Manitoba capital in 2019.

Steve Hiscock / Saskatoon Blades

Winnipeg Ice forward Conner McClennon had a pair of goals Wednesday night against Saskatoon Blades goalkeeper Austin Elliot.

It was the closest game of the series and offence was at as much of a premium as were bursts of energy from the combatants, as the clubs played their fourth game in six nights.

Winnipeg struck first in each of the series’ previous three contests, but it was Saskatoon who drew first blood on this night. Blades captain and defenceman Aidan De La Gorgendiere fired a hard wrist shot from the point that navigated its way through a mass of bodies and beat Ice goalie Daniel Hauser over his left shoulder.

Hauser, who stopped 16 of 18 shots in the contest, was not at fault for the two goals he conceded. The first, he couldn’t see, and the second came off a deflected shot from Trevor Wong early in the third period to knot the game at 2-2.

The Blades’ first lead of the series would last all of 3:42, though. The Ice’s power play, which rediscovered some magic in the conference finals series, operating at 40 per cent clip entering Game 4 (one-for-four on Wednesday), went back to work and needed a little more than a minute to strike again.

A hard snap shot from Matthew Savoie hit Blades goaltender Austin Elliott’s right shoulder then the crossbar before landing just in front of the goal line. Connor McClennon was there to clean up the garbage, notching his team-leading 12th goal of the playoffs to knot the game heading into the first intermission.

McClennon would give the visitors the lead at the 13:30 mark of the second period after being left alone in front and having enough time to stickhandle a few times, shoot and bang in his own rebound before a Blades defender got near him. The fifth-year forward now leads the WHL with 13 tallies in the playoffs.

At 6:19 of the final period Manitoba’s own Briley Wood, a product of Rivers, broke the tie off a deflected shot-pass from Carson Latimer. It was the third tally of the post-season for Wood, who spent most of the regular season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League with the Neepawa Titans, and his first point of the series.

The Ice will face the Seattle Thunderbirds or Kamloops Blazers in the championship. Seattle owns a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference final at the time of writing.

Twitter: @jfreysam

Joshua Frey-Sam

Joshua Frey-Sam

Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.

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