The Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre crease areas proved memorable last week for Andrey Makarov, who backstopped the Russian junior national team to a 5-2 victory over the Western Hockey League all-stars in the deciding game of the 2012 Subway Super Series.
The dexterous Makarov returns tonight with the Saskatoon Blades for their WHL game against the Victoria Royals.
"He's a different kind of goalie," said Royals forward Steven Hodges, a member of the WHL team that faced Makarov last Thursday at the Memorial Centre.
"He's unorthodox," added Hodges, who missed the last two Royals games after the Super Series with an injury and who will be a game-time decision tonight.
"He's not a typical stand-up goalie or a typical butterfly goalie. He just throws his body to stop the puck. We have to find a way to get it past him."
The six-foot-one native of Kazan, Russia, has appeared in all 21 games for the Blades (10-10-1) and started 19 of them. Makarov sports a 2.96 goals-against average and .907 save percentage, despite his exhaustive work load.
"Their goalie is their top player," acknowledged Royals head coach Dave Lowry.
"If [Makarov] sees the puck, he's going to stop it. We have to go to the net and make him try to search for the puck through our guys. We need to get bodies and pucks to the net."
That was a thought echoed by the Victoria snipers.
"We have to get in front of [Makarov] and create traffic," said Royals forward Jamie Crooks.
Royals forward Logan Nelson could again be shooting at Makarov next month as part of the United States team at the world junior championship in Ufa, Russia.
"We have to drive the middle and take away his vision and put everything on net," said Nelson.
"Eventually, goalies will slip up."
On the offensive side, the Blades boast three players with more than 20 points in 2010 Maple Leafs seventh-round draft pick Josh Nicholls of Tsawwassen (18 goals, 27 points), 2011 Rangers fifth-round pick Shane McColgan of Manhattan Beach, California, (six goals, 23 points) and 2011 Stars sixth-round selection Matej Stransky of Ostrava, Czech Republic (eight goals, 20 points).
Saskatoon and the Royals (11-11) are both .500 but the Blades are guaranteed a berth in the 2013 Memorial Cup national championship tournament as host. There is a sense of urgency on the part of Saskatoon to start building some momentum heading into the rest of the season. After a slow start, the Blades have won their last two games, including a 5-2 victory Sunday in Vancouver, and are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games.
This will be the first appearance on Blanshard Street in 18 years by the Blades, an original WHL team from 1966-67, but still looking for its first Memorial Cup title. Saskatoon didn't play in Victoria last season, when the Chilliwack Bruins relocated to the Island to finally replace the WHL Victoria Cougars, who departed for Prince George after the 1993-94 season.
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