Being from Calgary, it doesn’t take much for Saskatoon Blades defenseman Mike Green to get up for a game against the Hitmen, especially when the game is in front of his family and friends at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
And given the heat of the race between Green’s Blades and the Brandon Wheat Kings, it isn’t hard for the Calgary native to get up for any game.
“Every game right now is huge whether or not you’re playing in front of friends and family,” explained Green. “But it’s nice to get the win in front of them.”
A 3-2 win against the Hitmen last Sunday was exactly what the doctor ordered for Green and his club, who had gone winless in their previous three games, while the Wheat Kings passed Saskatoon for the East Division lead.
“We’re pretty aware of what (Brandon’s) doing,” admitted Green. “(We’re) tuned into how they’ve been. They’re playing good hockey right now and we’ve got to make sure we’re doing our part.”
The Blades, who went just 7-52-11-2 a season ago, are boasting the biggest turnaround in the Western Hockey League this season. Currently with a record of 34-20-5-5, Green turns to Saskatoon’s new coaching staff headed by General Manager and Head Coach Lorne Molleken.
“It has a lot to do with our coaching staff coming in and changing things,” described Green.
Coaching wasn’t the only factor in nearly quintupling their win total from last season.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are in their draft year this year and a lot of guys that want to move on and play pro hockey. I think it’s just a matter of wanting to become better each day, and we’ve done a good job of that.”
Playing in your draft year is something that is fresh in Green’s experience, selected in 2004 by the Washington Capitals in the National Hockey League Entry Draft. Green, who went 29th overall, saw Jeff Schultz, another Western Hockey League defenseman, selected by Washington just two spots earlier at 27th overall.
“I didn’t have a clue where I was going to go,” admitted Green, who was ranked ninth among North American skaters by Central Scouting heading into the draft. “I was just thankful I was going to Washington. They’re a great organization and hopefully I can get into it soon.”
If you ask Green if there are any jokes or hard feelings between himself and Schultz based on their draft positions, you’re likely to get a very straight-forward answer.
“There’s a rivalry,” began Green, “but we’re not out there to hurt each other. Hopefully one day we’ll play together, and I wish him the best of luck.”
It appears as though Green may be better prepared to make the jump for professional hockey. While Schultz has struggled to duplicate his draft year success, Green has flourished under Molleken.
In fact, among defensemen, only Andre Benoit of the Kitchener Rangers and Mario Scalzo Jr of the Rimouski Oceanic have more points in the CHL than Green. With 46 assists (fourth in the WHL) and 61 points (19th in the WHL), Green has improved his offensive totals greatly from last season, which saw him record 39 points in 59 games.
A season removed from a -29 rating, Green has lead the Western Hockey League in plus/minus for the majority of the season, with a +38 rating. Physical and mental maturity is another reason for the improvement, says the 6’1, 200lb defender.
“That’s a minor part of it,” he admitted.
It’s a maturity that has seen him transform into a team leader, and a player and person that has allowed the younger players to feel comfortable to confide in him.
“(Devin) Setoguchi, (Wacey) Rabbit, and those guys have come up and we’ve gone out for lunch and whatnot,” said Green, who is the captain of the Blades. “(I’ve) just kind of showed them the ropes and let them know what to do and what not to do, and how to prepare and tell them what scouts are looking for. Just a whole bunch of things, but they’re handling it well themselves.”
And what does Green think of the one of the younger players he’s attempted to offer his knowledge and advice to?
“He’s a beauty,” Green added grinningly, speaking of Rabbit, a 2005 draft eligible forward for Saskatoon, who happened to be within earshot.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.