PATS

’Canes will keep close tabs on Sam Steel

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - Gharder@postmedia.com

GREG HARDER

De­spite his unas­sum­ing na­ture, Sam Steel is ac­cus­tomed to be­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion.

It comes with the ter­ri­tory when you’re a first-round NHL draft pick who re­cently won the WHL scor­ing ti­tle and was named the Eastern Con­fer­ence Player of the Year.

Steel’s eye-catch­ing re­sume also means he is cer­tain to gar­ner some un­wanted at­ten­tion when the Regina Pats com­mence a third-round play­off se­ries Fri­day (7 p.m., Brandt Cen­tre) against the Lethbridge Hur­ri­canes.

“You can’t worry about that,” of­fered Steel, who had 50 goals and 131 points in 66 reg­u­lar sea­son games. “(Teams) are go­ing to do what they’re go­ing to do. It’s my job to go out there and try to do what I do best. You def­i­nitely can’t get frus­trated be­cause that’s just en­ergy be­ing wasted.”

Steel bat­tled through some VIP treat­ment in Regina’s pre­vi­ous se­ries against the Swift Cur­rent Broncos, fin­ish­ing with three goals, nine points and a plus-six rat­ing in seven games.

Regina’s No. 1 line — com­pris­ing Steel, Nick Henry and Daw­son Leedahl — emerged vic­to­ri­ous af­ter a tough head-to-head matchup with Swift Cur­rent’s top unit, cen­tred by NHL prospect Glenn Gawdin.

“I thought they got out­played in Game 6 by Gawdin’s line but, past that, I think Sam’s line won that bat­tle,” Pats head coach and GM John Paddock said. “I never chal­lenged him but I did throw some­thing out there just in gen­eral about how guys had picked each other up in Game 6. I talked about Wy­att (Slo­boshan) and (Austin Wag­ner) and Filip (Ahl) pick­ing it up be­cause ‘Gawdin out­played you guys.’ That wasn’t a di­rect chal­lenge to him but then you see him score the first goal right away (in Game 7).

“I don’t think Gawdin was go­ing to out­play him in that game.”

With a mix­ture of skill and de­ter­mi­na­tion, Steel has a his­tory of ris­ing to the chal­lenge. His ef­forts are needed more than ever in the ab­sence of cap­tain Adam Brooks, who won the WHL scor­ing ti­tle in 2016 and was the run­ner-up to Steel in 2017.

The 20-year-old cen­tre suf­fered a knee in­jury in Game 2 against Swift Cur­rent and isn’t ex­pected to be ready for the start of the Lethbridge se­ries.

When he’s in the lineup, Brooks war­rants so much at­ten­tion that teams can’t fo­cus solely on Regina’s top line.

It’s a clas­sic case of “pick your poi­son.”

With­out Brooks, Steel be­comes an ob­vi­ous fo­cal point — for the Pats and their op­po­si­tion. The 18-year-old cen­tre takes that chal­lenge to heart — but he’s not the only player re­quired to pick up the slack.

“I wouldn’t say once Adam is gone all the pres­sure is on me be­cause that’s def­i­nitely not true,” noted Steel, who’s among the league lead­ers with seven goals and 19 points in 11 play­off games. “As you saw in the last se­ries, we’re a re­ally deep team. We have guys like (Wag­ner) and Filip and (Slo­boshan) step­ping up. We’re a deep team and we be­lieve in all the guys.”

Slo­boshan has filled in ad­mirably for Brooks on Regina’s sec­ond line be­tween Wag­ner and Ahl. The trio was in­stru­men­tal in a come­back vic­tory over Swift Cur­rent in Game 6, fol­lowed by an­other strong show­ing in Game 7.

They also took some pres­sure off Steel, who ad­mits de­fend­ers are more likely to get away with bend­ing the rules in playoffs.

“Def­i­nitely — not that it’s a bad thing,” he said. “The refs are let­ting us play for the most part. There’s no com­plain­ing. Playoffs is an in­tense time. Some things you’re go­ing to get let off but there’s noth­ing wrong with that.”

Steel is ex­pect­ing a tough matchup in the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal — likely against Hur­ri­canes No. 1 cen­tre Gior­gio Estephan. Estephan’s right-hand man is cap­tain Tyler Wong, a tena­cious checker and gifted scorer who tied for the league lead with 51 goals.

Wong, Estephan and left-winger Egor Babenko are all among the top-five in WHL play­off scor­ing. Steel’s un­der­rated de­fen­sive acu­men will be equally im­por­tant to his con­tri­bu­tions on of­fence.

“They’re good play­ers,” Steel said. “They’re go­ing to be a tough team to beat. We def­i­nitely have to try to do our best to keep their pro­duc­tion lim­ited.”

You def­i­nitely can’t get frus­trated be­cause that’s just en­ergy be­ing wasted.

TROY FLEECE

The Lethbridge Hur­ri­canes are sure to make stop­ping Regina Pats cen­tre Sam Steel a top pri­or­ity in the Eastern Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship se­ries begin­ning Fri­day.

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