With eight meetings during the course of the Western Hockey League regular season, it doesn’t get much for the Prince Albert Raiders and Saskatoon Blades to get riled up at one another.
However, with four matchups taking place during the pre-season, a meeting on Sunday, Sept. 30 at the Art Hauser Centre might prove to be one of the most interesting contest in the opening stages of the 2018-19 campaign.
“We always play the Blades at this time of the year but this is certainly way more games than we’ve had against them in the past,” Raiders forward Spencer Moe said. “All but one of our games are against them in the pre-season, and you can certainly feel things starting to build out there.”
“I think the number of games that we’re playing against each other will be good for both teams,” Blades forward Michael Farren added. “When we see each other in the regular season, we’ll already have a good idea of what each team does, especially when it comes to special teams.”
The most recent meeting between the two sides, a 4-3 shootout win for the Blades at The Legends Centre in Warman Saturday, featured a much higher tempo and more physicality that had been present in the previous matchups between the two sides.
That was most apparent in the first period of play, as Raiders defenceman Zach Hayes squared off with Blades forward Riley McKay in a tilt that saw both players head to the showers early as per WHL pre-season rules.
“The tension is already pretty high between us,” Moe said. “I think we need to remind ourselves at times that it’s still the pre-season. There’s still a few more games to go until the regular season begins, so we might have to tone things down a little bit.”
Although a hard-hitting affair might not be what most observers expect in the pre-season, that could be a regular occurrence when the games count for real as both sides look to make noise in the Eastern Conference.
“Prince Albert’s got a good team and we’re moving in the right direction, so I think it should be an exciting season for both of us,” Farren said. “It’s going to be a tough matchup no matter where the game is and I think the fans will see that intensity each time we play.”
As was the case Thursday in a 6-3 win over the Raiders in Prince Albert, the Blades’ top offensive trio were a dominant force yet again.
Farren led the way in regulation with a goal and two assists, while his linemates Bradly Goethals and Kirby Dach had a goal and an assist each.
Goethals and Farren also came up big in the shootout, as they each solved Raiders netminder Donovan Buskey in the skills competition to improve to 5-0 in pre-season play.
“We actually didn’t play together a whole lot last season,” Farren said. “Kirby and I were with each other for a little bit, but Bradly and I didn’t team up at all.
“We’re really clicking right now, but I’m excited to play with anyone on the team. We got some good new faces here and some veterans who are looking to improve.”
Koen MacInnes turned aside 35 shots in 65 minutes of play, but he saved his best save for the shootout as he stretched out his right leg to deny Raiders forward Brett Leason.
Kody McDonald led the way for the visitors with a goal and an assist, while Lane Kirk and Moe also lit the lamp.
“Before the game, ‘Habby’ (coach Marc Habscheid) really stressed to the older guys on making sure that we stepped up and I think we did that,” Moe said.
“It wasn’t the result we wanted, but it was a big step forward from Thursday and I feel like we’re going in the right direction. We’re building our chemistry together after a long off-season and we’re getting better each time we’re on the ice.”
Buskey made 33 saves for the Raiders, who now have a 0-3 mark in exhibition action.
Prior to another meeting with the Blades in Prince Albert Saturday, the Raiders will travel to the Brandt Centre Friday evening to take on the Regina Pats.
The Pats will be coming up to the Art Hauser Centre on Friday, Sept. 21 for the first game of the regular season.