Injured last year, Pats forward in thick of playoffs
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.”
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...