Rookie goaltender Mack Shields, along with a strong defensive effort in front of him, led the Calgary Hitmen to a 2-0 win against the Regina Pats on Saturday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Making his first start at home since Nov. 12 against Kootenay, Shields made 18 stops for his first Western Hockey League shutout. Despite the low shot count, Shields came up huge on a couple of occasions as he helped his team to contain a Regina power play which saw plenty of action.
“I feel great. I didn’t even think about it too much because it was just a one goal game for so long and we just really wanted to get the two points,” explained Mack Shields after the memorable performance.
“The PK did a great job in front, blocking shots when I couldn’t see it and getting the puck down,” added Shields. “We probably spent a little too much time in the box, more than we’d want to, but the way we killed them off showed a lot of heart and a lot of hard work.”
Saturday night’s contest featured two clubs going in opposite directions in the standings. In their last 17 games, Calgary has a record of 13-3-0-1, while Regina is 1-6-1-0 in their last eight. With the victory, the Hitmen maintain top spot in the Eastern Conference at 22-7-1-3.
Calgary got on the board first at the 1:46 mark after an excellent first shift off the opening face-off. Getting the puck from Cody Sylvester, Greg Chase took his time at the left side and snapped a shot past Matt Hewitt. The goal was the Sherwood Park, Alberta product’s eighth of the year.
While holding a 1-0 lead after one period, the Hitmen did a superb job limiting the Pats’ attack on a couple of power play opportunities. Four Calgary players would get called in the first stanza, but the Hitmen defence handled the pressure, only allowing four shots through 20 minutes.
Infractions would dictate the early stages of the middle frame as the home side was forced to kill off a full two-minute five-on-three Pats’ advantage. Adding insult to injury, a delay of game call put Calgary down a man for another minute before a penalty to Regina evened the playing field. The Hitmen penalty kill would hold their opposition off the score sheet during the onslaught, eventually denying the Pats on all 10 of their power plays.
“We obviously didn’t want to be in the box as much as we were,” discussed Calgary head coach Mike Williamson. “There are not very many nights you can do that and come away unscathed, but Shields was exceptional for us and very calm I thought. There was a lot of pressure on him and he looked very composed.”
In the third period each goaltender had their time to shine as they continued to turn away scoring opportunities. Shields would flash the leather on a couple of great chances from Regina skaters as he showed a strong ability to stay with his shooters. Hewitt was forced to scramble on a couple of close calls after he collided with forward Brendan Hurley as he drove to the net.
On a power play in the final minute, the Pats pulled their netminder to give themselves a six-on-four advantage. While in the Regina end though, Sylvester checked the puck off former teammate Darian Henry’s stick and proceeded to wrap around from behind the net to score the insurance marker.
Sylvester’s team-leading 19th rounded out the scoring as time ran out, giving Shields his first clean sleet in his eighth WHL start.
The Hitmen will be back in action at home tomorrow evening as they take on the Kelowna Rockets at 4 p.m. Tickets for upcoming Hitmen games are available at all Ticketmaster locations as well as the Scotiabank Saddledome box office. Order online at www.ticketmaster.ca or by phone at 1-855-985-5000. For more information on tickets, including the Sunday Ticket Pack and Name Your Game Flex Package, contact customer service at 403-777-4646.