LESCHYSHYN PUMPED

In­jured last year, Pats for­ward in thick of play­offs

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

My sainted wife plans to savour the sin­gles scene Satur­day night.

Chrys­soula Filip­pakopou­los, who has re­quested anonymity, was hop­ing to pur­chase mul­ti­ple tick­ets to a loom­ing WHL play­off game be­tween the Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos and Regina Pats — only to emerge with just one ducat.

The mo­ment that tick­ets went on sale Thurs­day, she at­tempted to pur­chase a bloc of seats that would be oc­cu­pied by her­self, yours truly, Eric An­der­son and Dr. Mark An­der­son. No luck. Three? Nope.

How about two? Nice try.

Ergo, I will wit­ness the pro­ceed­ings from the Brandt Cen­tre press box, and Chrys­soula will be sur­rounded by strangers for Game 6 of a best-of-seven Eastern Con­fer­ence quar­ter-fi­nal.

Who knows how many other at­ten­dees will be in a com­pa­ra­ble sit­u­a­tion?

A mere nine min­utes after tick­ets went on sale to the gen­eral pub­lic, only sin­gles re­mained. By Fri­day, all the sin­gle seats had been de­voured. Such is the vo­ra­cious ap­petite for ma­jor-ju­nior hockey in the greater Regina area.

The Pats’ at­ten­dance has been re­spectable since 1995, when Cal­gary-based Russ Parker bought the team, but the team’s fans had been typ­i­cally tac­i­turn for the long­est time.

In­ter­est has as­cended to an­other level since Queen City Sports and En­ter­tain­ment Group took over in 2014 and in­stalled John Pad­dock as the head coach and gen­eral man­ager.

The Pats played at least two play­off se­ries in each of the first three sea­sons un­der own­ers Anthony Mar­quart, Todd Lum­bard, Shaun Sem­ple, Gavin Sem­ple and Ja­son Drum­mond. This year, a Me­mo­rial Cup berth is as­sured, Regina hav­ing been awarded host-team priv­i­leges.

Last sea­son, Regina amassed a fran­chise-record 52 vic­to­ries en route to winning the Eastern Con­fer­ence reg­u­lar-sea­son and play­off ti­tles.

The sup­port for the team has reached the point where a full house of 6,484 is as­sured for a post-sea­son game. Satur­day’s game will be the Pats’ 16th con­sec­u­tive post-sea­son sell­out, dat­ing back to 2016.

And it isn’t a sym­phony crowd, ei­ther.

On Wed­nes­day, for ex­am­ple, Pats fans sar­cas­ti­cally chanted the sur­name of Bron­cos goal­tender Stu­art Skin­ner after the home team en­joyed an of­fen­sive awak­en­ing.

Skin­ner was pulled 11:35 into the sec­ond pe­riod, after Jake Leschyshyn had sniped to give the Pats a 5-1 lead. Leschyshyn later pro­vided a punc­tu­a­tion mark, in the form of an emp­tynet goal, as the Pats won 6-3 to even the se­ries at 2-2. Game 5 was to be played Fri­day night in Swift Cur­rent.

“Our crowd has been like this now for a year and a half, when we ba­si­cally started sell­ing out all the time,” Pad­dock said after Wed­nes­day’s game.

“They’re pumped. They know as well as we know, and you guys (in the me­dia) all know, that it’s a real tight se­ries — any­body’s se­ries — and they’re be­hind us, for sure.”

Wed­nes­day’s loud­est ova­tion was pro­duced by a Jared Legien goal that gave Regina a 3-1 lead at 7:26 of the sec­ond stanza. Barely two min­utes ear­lier, Swift Cur­rent’s Glenn Gawdin had scored to re­duce the Pats’ lead to one goal.

“I watched the fi­nals last year and it’s pretty sur­real to be able to ac­tu­ally be on the ice and pro­duce in front of a crowd like this,” Legien said.

“We have loud fans — some of the best fans in the league. Ev­ery night, they’re loud and they’re proud, and it re­ally boosts us up.”

So did a spir­ited start by the Pats, who led 2-0 by the 10-minute mark. They rarely re­lented for the re­main­ing 50 min­utes. Nei­ther did the fans.

“Oh, it was awesome,” Pats for­ward Emil Ok­sa­nen said with a smile. “I want to thank ev­ery fan for that at­mos­phere. It was awesome to play in front of that kind of crowd and it was loud. It helps a lot.”

To what ex­tent is the ro­bust par­ti­san­ship ben­e­fi­cial?

“I’m not sure it’s quite like a sev­enth-man thing, be­cause the op­po­si­tion still has a say and you have to fight for ev­ery inch of the ice and dif­fer­ent things,” Pad­dock said.

“You try to block the crowd out on the road, so at home you don’t want to be ov­er­en­thu­si­as­tic just be­cause of it. You’ve got to play the game.

“But we know they’re great. They have been great. It does mat­ter about this se­ries right now, but we know in May that they’re go­ing to be great, too.”

TROY FLEECE

Pats Jared Legien, left, and Matt Bradley cel­e­brate a goal against the Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos on Wed­nes­day at the Brandt Cen­tre. Satur­day’s play­off game against the Bron­cos will be the Pats’ 16th con­sec­u­tive post-sea­son sell­out, dat­ing back to 2016, and...

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