SASKATOON - Saskatoon Blades captain Brenden Walker and his teammates know their time together is almost up.
The 20-year-old overage centre leads a veteran roster at the MasterCard Memorial Cup that's looking to go out on top after a trying season that still has a chance for a happy ending.
The host team at the tournament was assembled with the sole purpose of winning the Canadian Hockey League title, but stumbled badly late in the season and was swept in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
After a long break that included mounting criticism, the Blades lost 3-2 in the Memorial Cup opener to the London Knights before bouncing back with a big 5-2 upset win over the No. 1 ranked Halifax Mooseheads on Sunday for their first victory in over two months.
Walker says it isn't lost on the players that as many as 18 of them could be participating in their final week of CHL hockey.
"We're laying it all out there," Walker said Tuesday. "There's nothing to rest for so the guys will take a shot in the teeth, whatever it takes."
Blades defenceman Duncan Siemens, a first-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2011, says the Memorial Cup brings out the best in players.
"There's not too many things out there that can beat the stage that we're on. It's one of the hardest trophies in sports to win," he said. "You see that every night when guys go out there and are diving head first in front of pucks and doing absolutely everything they can to help their team."
The 19-year-old Siemens adds that the experience on the Sasktoon roster has helped the team deal with the ups and downs it faced this season.
"We do have an older group and for a few of our overagers this is their last kick at the can. I think we all want to do it for each other. We're not really focused on what's gonna come after this," he said. "We feel as a group we've worked extremely hard to this point and it would just be a waste to not put our best foot forward and not play they way we're capable of."
The Blades have their fate in the own hands ahead of Wedneday's final round-robin game against the Portland Winterhawks as both teams sit at 1-1. A Saskatoon victory sends them to Sunday's final, while a loss means the Blades will have to play in Thursday's tiebreaker against the London Knights.
Overage right-winger Josh Nicholls has three goals and an assist through the Blades' first two games at the Memorial Cup. The 21-year-old who is property of the New York Rangers has played in Saskatoon for five seasons and says the Blades understand the enormity of the situation for a team that has had its share of doubters.
"We want it to be a special moment for us to all finish our careers together and make it a championship year. At the same time we're doing it for all the alumni and the whole city of Saskatoon," Nicholls said. "I think everyone deserves a championship in this city and we feel like we're really lucky.
"It's a special opportunity to be in this position."
Blades head coach and general manager Lorne Molleken made a series of moves that sacrificed the future for the present as the franchise pushed for its first CHL title.
Although the season didn't go according to plan, he says there's still an opportunity to make history.
"That's the beauty of team sport. We have a chance to do something extremely special here and our players have laid it on the line for each other. That's been a big big part of it," Molleken said. "We feel that we have a solid group in that room that's been a good team all year.
"We've faced a lot of different adversities so we have chance here to do something special."
Blades left-winger Michael Ferland was acquired from the Brandon Wheat Kings for a first-round pick before the trade deadline to help solidify the roster. He and Walker played in the Memorial Cup with Brandon back in 2010 and says he feels fortunate to get a second chance.
"We realize that we don't really get a shot like this very often," said the 21-year-old Ferland, a 2010 fifth-round pick of the Calgary Flames. "We just want to go out on top.
"I've just got to embrace it. Time's going by so fast."
And while the clock is ticking on this incarnation of the Blades, they're soaking up the experience that very few players get to experience.
"This is something that you'll remember for the rest of your life. For most people it's a once in a lifetime experience and you want to make the most of it," Siemens said. "It's been the most fun I've ever had playing hockey. It's an experience that will teach you a lot about yourself and a lot about the group that you're with."