QUIET JAN­UARY DEAL TURN­ING INTO PATS SEA­SON-SAVER

Former Blades cap­tain Slo­boshan a key play­off per­former as in­juries set in

Regina Leader-Post - - SPORTS - ROB VAN­STONE rvan­stone@postmedia.com twit­ter.com/rob­van­stone

If not for one trans­ac­tion, the Regina Pats would likely be lament­ing in­ac­tion.

The deal, con­sum­mated Jan. 2, was not a head­line-grab­ber at the time. Pats head coach and gen­eral man­ager John Paddock had ac­quired cen­tre Wy­att Slo­boshan and a third-round se­lec­tion in the WHL’s 2017 ban­tam draft for wingers Rykr Cole and Ri­ley Woods.

“Slo­boshan adds skill and lead­er­ship to our club,” Paddock said in an early-Jan­uary me­dia re­lease. “He will be a valu­able contributor on our team down the stretch.”

That said, Paddock could not have en­vi­sioned how valu­able the former Saska­toon Blades cap­tain would prove to be.

The ar­rival of Slo­boshan gave the Pats an em­bar­rass­ment of riches at cen­tre. They were three deep down the mid­dle — thanks to Sam Steel, Adam Brooks and Jake Leschyshyn — be­fore adding Slo­boshan.

“We were get­ting him to be the 10th for­ward on the team,” Paddock noted on Mon­day af­ter the Pats de­feated the Swift Cur­rent Broncos 5-1 in the sev­enth and de­cid­ing game of an Eastern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nal.

The cen­tre-ice depth chart be­gan to change Feb. 3, when Leschyshyn suf­fered a sea­so­nend­ing knee in­jury.

Brooks also in­jured a knee in Game 2 of the Swift Cur­rent se­ries, a set­back that put his sea­son — and that of the Pats — in peril.

Sud­denly, an area of strength loomed as a glar­ing weak­ness. Against a stub­born Swift Cur­rent team, Regina was with­out a 130-point scorer (Brooks) and a po­ten­tial high pick in the 2017 NHL draft (Leschsy­hyn).

The Pats did have Sam Steel, who amassed a league-high 131 points (in­clud­ing 50 goals) en route to earn­ing Eastern Con­fer­ence player-of-the-year hon­ours. But, be­yond Steel, there were ques­tions as to the Pats’ cen­tre­ice depth.

Slo­boshan to the res­cue.

In timely fash­ion, he de­vel­oped a rap­port with Brooks’ line­mates — Austin Wag­ner and Filip Ahl. That trio de­liv­ered a mon­ster per­for­mance on Sat­ur­day, when Regina shook off a 3-1 deficit and won 5-3 in Swift Cur­rent to ex­tend the se­ries to a sev­enth game.

The Slo­boshan-Wag­ner-Ahl troika had an­other strong game on Mon­day as the Pats ad­vanced to the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal. The best-of-seven se­ries is to be­gin Fri­day, 7 p.m., when the Pats play host to the Lethbridge Hur­ri­canes.

Af­ter the se­ries-end­ing vic­tory over Swift Cur­rent, Paddock was asked: “What if you hadn’t traded for Wy­att Slo­boshan?”

“Hmmm,” he said, pon­der­ing the hy­po­thet­i­cal ques­tion. “What if Jake Leschyshyn hadn’t got­ten hurt? Or Brook­sie? There are ifs and buts.

“But I do be­lieve that if you have a chance, you never have enough cen­tremen and you never have enough de­fence­men. Cen­tremen can play wing. Wingers can’t play cen­tre. That’s some­thing that will al­ways be in the back of my mind when you have op­por­tu­ni­ties. There’s al­ways a line drawn in the sand for how much you pay for cer­tain things.”

It is safe to say that the Pats would now be pay­ing hand­somely, and likely dispersed across Western Canada, if Paddock had not swung the deal for Slo­boshan.

“Stuff hap­pens,” Paddock said, “and now he’s play­ing in the top six.”

The Pats’ bench boss was also quick to laud other un­her­alded con­trib­u­tors, such as for­wards Rob­bie Holmes, Bryan Lock­ner and Jeff de Wit.

“Th­ese guys have grown and given us a lit­tle bit more all the time, and we need that,” Paddock noted. “We need Brook­sie back so we can start to play four lines some­times, be­cause there were a lot of miles on our top six guys in this se­ries.”

The Pats were miles ahead of the Broncos af­ter Slo­boshan, Wag­ner and Ahl be­gan click­ing on Sat­ur­day.

“In Game 6, they picked it up,” Paddock said. “Sam’s line lost ba­si­cally the bat­tle that night to the (Glenn) Gawdin line. (The Slo­boshan line) picked it up huge.

“Wy­att’s fi­nally get­ting re­warded for all the hard work. His game has been very, very con­sis­tent through­out the playoffs for 11 games, but he doesn’t have the num­bers to show for it. Th­ese last two games were su­per-im­por­tant.”

So, in hind­sight, was the trade for Slo­boshan.

“He’s a very ver­sa­tile player,” Wag­ner said. “He’s a very skilled player and a very good player, and he works hard. You see that ev­ery night. I’m happy to have him on my line.”

If not for Slo­boshan, the Pats might have faced the end of the line.

Cen­tremen can play wing. Wingers can’t play cen­tre. That’s some­thing that will al­ways be in the back of my mind.

KEITH HERSHMILLER

The ad­di­tion of cen­tre Wy­att Slo­boshan has made a huge dif­fer­ence for the Regina Pats at a cru­cial junc­ture of the sea­son.

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